Student Success

Student Success:  Family, Motivation, and Patti Fiasco

One of the rewards of having had a long career in education is seeing many former students achieving success at the highest levels. I can think of numerous examples; one student who became a top assistant to the governor of our state, several serving as county attorneys, another who designed the orbital programs for the Magellan and Jupiter Space Probes, and has his own space engineering firm while also being a full professor at a prestigious state university, and on and on. These were all good students, some of them coming from single-parent homes, some from the “traditional” family structure. But all of them achieved, and benefited from strong support in the family arena.  

A lengthy article by Paul Barton, of the Educational Testing Service, “The Family: the World’s Smallest Classroom” , provides lots of data and insight into the importance of the family toward a child’s future success. Having been involved in evaluations of a number of alternative high schools, and actually having filled in as principal for a year in one of those schools, I always asked students the same question,  “Why are you being successful here, and you weren’t successful in the regular school?” And I always received some variation of the same answer, “Because an adult took an interest in me and wouldn’t let me fail.” Generally, all these students came from homes where they received little or no support and encouragement, and had little understanding of the importance of not only establishing personal goals but also in creating pathways for success toward those goals.

At the same time, we can’t discount the importance of the individual’s personal motivation, commitment, and focus, to attain goals. The type of students I mentioned in the opening paragraph had both qualities, total support within the home and total commitment and focus toward their chosen goal. All of them exhibit those characteristics described in Art Costas’ “Habits of Mind”, and are basic behaviors toward becoming high achievers and successful adults.

Occasionally, however, a student comes along who is so universally successful across a broad range of activities, that we shake our heads in wonderment. I first became aware of a special young lady when I attended a varsity girls’ basketball game at the tiny high school (enrollment—65) she attended in Encampment, Wyoming. The daughter of a second generation rancher, who also was the coach, and an outstanding K-12 Art Teacher, Alysia lit up the gym with her demonstration of athletic skills and court sense. I learned that she averaged over 26 points a game, as a diminutive freshman guard; during the next few years I watched her lead her school to two state championships, and for her to be crowned Wyoming’s Female Athlete of the Year as a senior. She received numerous All-State awards in several sports. But that was not all—She also won the state’s Voice of Democracy competition, and as a rancher’s daughter, she arose early each day to care for the cattle with which she would win prizes in the county and state fairs. (By the way, I noticed that students who were active participants in FFA easily demonstrated responsibility in other areas of their lives, and appeared to be quite capable of setting goals for personal development). Annually, the state has a High School Art Symposium, in which high schools from all size classes participate; and annually, Encampment High School walks away with the bulk of the blue ribbons. Alysia took prizes for jewelry, acrylics, sculpture, computer art and design, water colors—virtually everything available! Of course, it didn’t hurt to have her mother, Pam, as the Art teacher, an accomplished artist herself; but Alysia wasn’t alone in her success—all the other students were also enjoying the recognition received for their efforts. Her father also had the limelight; he was the state’s Coach of the Year, a well-deserved award for not only the success of the team, but also for the efforts he put in to develop each player’s skills and social responsibility. Alysia graduated as valedictorian and Class President; to me, her most important achievements were that in spite of all her success, all the other kids liked her, and she made every effort to involve everyone in their success. For her, and actually for everyone in that family atmosphere, small K-12 school, there was no such thing as elitism. Older kids mentored the younger kids, bullying was an almost unknown word.

These are only some of Alysia’s accomplishments. She went on to the University of Wyoming, where she played basketball during her freshman and sophomore years, on the Wyoming Cowgirls but, when she felt she wasn’t getting enough playing time commensurate with amount of time being put in, she left the team at mid-year and focused on her art, again winning juried competitions and also becoming part of the Art Museum staff. But that restless nature of always looking for new worlds to conquer again prodded her along; she began appearing at the Open Mike sessions offered weekly at one of the local Laramie bistros, taught herself to play the guitar, and she evolved to become a singer! Usually, the members of the Cowgirl basketball team were there to encourage her along, and as she continued to develop as an entertainer, she also began to write music and her own songs.

Now, we have a new History, just taking its first step.  Alysia Kraft decided it was time to start a band, and emerging as one of this region’s top musical groups is Patti Fiasco, a recent winner of numerous regional prizes and widely critically acclaimed as a contemporary country music newcomer. Soon to be featured in March at the Austin, Texas musical extravaganza, the group appears at many major venues throughout Colorado and Wyoming, as well as on audio media, and their most recent CD was named the best in Colorado. Find them on the internet, watch their videos, and listen to the great variety of the songs that Alysia and her mates have written and performed; and try to follow their schedule so that you can experience their excitement and abilities in person. I know that you will enjoy!

How and why is she so successful? She had those same two resources, strong family support and an exceptional amount of personal commitment and focus. We know that every child won’t have the degree of success as Alysia, but just perhaps some parent, somewhere, will suddenly become aware of the importance of their support for their children’s dreams and needs, and maybe a few more kids will “come close”.

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