There are eighth-grade boys wearing suits in the halls, and the campus is crawling with adults. This isn't just any day at Egan Junior High School; it's Portfolio Day, held every June to celebrate the eighth-graders' two years of academic accomplishments.
"Students now live at such a pace—go, go, go," said eighth-grade English teacher Mary Ann Darby. "This is their time to stop and reflect upon their two years at Egan, and when they get that time to meet with parent and community volunteers, it's really powerful."
Thursday's Portfolio Day came just eight days before the eighth-graders' landmark graduation day, happening Friday, June 10, at 11 a.m.
Darby said students spend several weeks preparing for Portfolio Day, gathering the work samples they deem most representative of their growth during junior high school.
Each portfolio begins with a cover, an autobiography and an essay describing the three most important skills students feel they have gained at Egan.
"The autobiographies are actually written early in the year, and when we hand them back to the students in May, they read it and say, 'Who wrote this?'" said Darby. "They grow so much."
Many portfolio essays reflected a similar theme: students who began their years at Egan as overwhelmed seventh-graders moved on to develop presentation, writing, teamwork and time-management skills.
Darby and her colleague, eighth-grade English teacher Rosemary Garcia, prepare the students to present to one or more parent and community volunteers for 15 minutes each. The teachers said students are deliberately paired with adults they are unlikely to know, to ease the pressure of presenting.
At the beginning of Rachel Miller'spresentation, she described her portfolio cover, offering insight into her personality and interests. "I drew a camera on my cover, because I love taking pictures and capturing moments," she said.
Rachel moved on to describe the human disease project she did about uterine sarcoma for her science class. "I chose it, because it is one of three types of cancer my grandma has survived," she said. "It was really nice to talk with her about that."
Ya'el Weiner shared an essay from her history class in which she argued that the Disney character, Pocahontas, was a poor portrayal of women and Native Americans. "I'm a persuasive writer," she said, "and I notice how much more insightful my eighth-grade writing is than my seventh-grade writing."
Karnika Pombra showed a drawing she did from a photograph of a lotus on a pond. "It took me three weeks of full class periods to finish it," Karnika said.
She also shared her eighth-grade poetry collection, describing two of the poems she wrote—an elegy to a character who passed away in one of her favorite books and a poem titled, "Where I'm From," in which she used sensory language to evoke the feelings of her home and family life.
"I wrote a reflection on William Shakespeare's 'Shall I Compare Thee?' sonnet and was really able to understand the poem," Karnika added.
Egan is one of few local schools to hold such an event. "We are really lucky at Egan to have a staff that is willing to take something like this on," said this year's Portfolio Day coordinator, Egan parent Cindy McColl. "I love this day."
Garcia added, "This event is a huge success every year, thanks to community member and parent support, not to mention the encouragement of our school and district administration and teachers."
Eighth-graders Nina Kamangar and Sara Zokaei said the presentations were a positive experience.
"It was my first formal interview, so it was an interesting experience," said Nina. "It gave me a chance to talk about all I've done this year."
For Sara, "It was a good experience to have a type of interview and talk about work we've progressed on and are proud of."
The presentation meets the criteria set forth in the California State Content Standards for eighth-grade presentations: students should be able to organize information purposefully, speak effectively and pace themselves well.
To parent volunteer Lee Ward, there's more to it than that. "I think it's amazing to see the effort kids put in over the course of their time at Egan. The process of Portfolio Day shows their confidence, and, especially at this age, that's such a great highlight. It was very rewarding for me."
After meeting with students, adult volunteers return to the Egan library to write notes to the students to thank them for their presentations and share positive feedback. The notes are tucked into the students' portfolios and picked up the Monday after Portfolio Day.
Garcia and Darby described how students' faces light up when they read the notes.
"Students have come back years later to say, 'I still have my note from Portfolio Day and take it out and look at it when I need a boost,'" said Darby.