May 24, 2007
Some students follow road less traveled to college
(Page 2 - Previous Page)In high school, she started to care a little more about grades and did a little better, earning around a B average. After her sophomore year, her father sat her down and gave her an option. She could continue going to high school and then start community college, or she could just start community college now.
After an administrative struggle with Cleveland High, Spivak enrolled in Valley College, and to earn a high school diploma, she did independent study through a continuation school, an extension of the Los Angeles school system designed mostly for delinquents or teen mothers. She passed a high school equivalency exam, and after two years, she earned her associate's degree in psychology at Valley College, where her grades were much improved over high school.
Spivak knew where she wanted to go next. She liked the individualized attention and the Jewish atmosphere at the University of Judaism (UJ) (now American Jewish University), and she knew the school had a good placement record with graduate schools. She spent three years at UJ, where she graduated summa cum laude last week, and the experience changed her as a student.
"When I got to UJ I started doing really well. I started taking classes I liked, and the pace was good for me. I was working really hard," says Spivak, who was also on student government, president of the psychology association and a peer academic counselor.
In the fall, she starts an MBA program in nonprofit management at American Jewish University.
"I feel like there's this idea that getting into a dream school is the only way to set you up for the rest of your life, and that is just not true," Spivak says. "I went to a place where all the professors know me by name, and all of them are willing to advocate on my behalf. You don't get that at a lot of schools."
From the Margins to the Center
When Alex Popper would look at the Bell Curve of an average class, with the extremes of kids who were failing and kids who were acing the class, he never understood the acers.
Why would someone try so hard?
But when he started at New Community Jewish High School in 10th grade, he finally understood why -- and that attitude has stayed with him at Carleton College, a small liberal arts college in Northfield, Minn., where he's done well in his first year.
"At New Jew, I felt personally responsible for making the project of a small private Jewish school education work. And I was personally interested and had a personal stake in the stuff I was studying," Popper says. "I began to genuinely care about what I was doing, which is a night and day difference, and it came through in my grades."
Before going to New Jew, a pluralistic high school in West Hills, Popper had been a mediocre student. He attended a public elementary school in Topanga Canyon, then Viewpoint, a private middle school. He wasn't all that interested in school work and so didn't put in much effort.
"I was a marginal student," Popper says. "I didn't have any sense of ownership in what I was doing. At best, I would get done whatever needed to get done, or at times I even neglected to do that."
After ninth grade at Calabasas High School, Popper's parents decided he might do better at New Jew, then in its second year of existence.
He took Hebrew and theology and enjoyed small classes and a supportive atmosphere where every teacher knew every kid. He joined the lacrosse team and felt personally involved in shaping the vision and direction of the new school.
During high school, Popper kept up his longtime commitment to the Boy Scouts, and he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout with a final project where he researched, planned and marshaled volunteers to revive a native plants garden in Topanga Canyon.
Popper knows that being an Eagle Scout looks good on a college resume, but he also knows that he never would have achieved the rank if he had been doing it just to look good to colleges.
"At the point where you are doing things just for the fact that you can put it on a piece of paper, that kind of defeats the purpose, because it's not sincere," he says.
Having earned mostly As in high school, Popper took an SAT prep course and took the test twice.
With help from his guidance counselor, he identified colleges that would offer the atmosphere that helped him flourish in high school -- a small population, where individual initiative is appreciated. He applied to 10 schools and got accepted to most of them. He chose Carleton, where he felt the people were nice and the school best matched his own educational philosophy. Having just completed his freshman year, he says the choice has been a good one -- aside from "absolutely grisly winters."
He plays on the college lacrosse team, is on student government and works on the campus newspaper and radio station.