“It was humbling to discover the trials of her home life, the degree of self – motivation it took for her to go out into the community and find her way. My respect for Deborah has grown also as a result of reading and helping her to edit her essays.”
Bonnie Dillard is an Art teacher at Kodiak High School. She is mentor to 2015 Gates Scholarship Winner Deborah Bitanga.
2015 Reflection on Gates Scholarship Application Experience
When my student, Deborah Bitanga, asked me to be her recommender for the Gates Millenium Scholarship, we knew that she did not have much time. She had hesitated, thinking she did not have it in her to get that much writing done. I encouraged her to do it, as did many others in her life. Once she committed herself, we both dove into the paperwork, not knowing what to expect.
As a full time teacher, I was lucky to have Christmas break to work on my share of the writing. Being a recommender requires knowledge about your student’s contributions to the community. Since I know Deborah mainly within the school setting, I needed to spend time contacting and interviewing community members who could provide information about Deborah and her connections within our small island town.
It was an emotional experience. The interviews gave me insights into the depth of my student’s work outside of school, work that even now amazes me as far as the time and energy she has contributed to Kodiak, outside of the high school. It was humbling to discover the trials of her home life, the degree of self – motivation it took for her to go out into the community and find her way. My respect for Deborah has grown also as a result of reading and helping her to edit her essays.
Other emotions during this experience included a great deal of frustration, as FOR ME, the guidelines for recommender WERE unclear and ambiguous. The people who helped us with editing were quite valuable, but if the guidelines HAD BEEN clear from the beginning, it would HAVE BEEN much less time and frustration for the adults who are trying to support their students in this process. It took nearly a week to finally understand exactly what was required from me. This is a shame, for it could cause many people to give up in the middle of the process. The editing work was necessary but a great deal of that could have been avoided with clear guidelines at the beginning.
My love and admiration for my student kept me going and I know that the support of many people kept her going, and finally the work was done. This is a powerful feeling to know the possibility is there for support for Deborah and her schooling. Even if she does not receive this scholarship, my hope is that the experience of the writing and the struggle of the process will stay with her as knowledge that she CAN advocate for herself and that many people are there to support and encourage her along the way.