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August 20, 2018

How I Turned My Passion into a School Project

Kat Stratton, AltSchool Student

Kat Stratton is a recent graduate of AltSchool Fort Mason. During her time at AltSchool, she was able to pursue several passions including participating in charitable causes and video game development and technology. Notably, she raised $6,000 for Game Changer, a charity dedicated to helping children with life-threatening illnesses through technology and scholarships. Here, she shares how her passion for video game development fueled her personal growth in school and beyond. At the end of the school year, she presented her learning to her parents and teachers.

In the past, academic achievement was the most important thing and the only thing measured and reported on. This was hard for me because I am dyslexic. Everything at school was hard for me. It took me a long time to finish assignments and tests. Sometimes when I didn’t hand in homework on time, I would worry that people thought I was lazy. The truth was that I would often fall asleep at home struggling to do the same work that seemed to come easily to other students. Even though I had supportive parents and teachers, the day-in, day-out struggle was taking its toll on my self-esteem. It’s painful to admit, but I was beginning to see myself as stupid. When my classmates got higher grades than I did, I wondered whether I was smart enough to accomplish my dreams.

Read more: An AltSchool educator shares his story of finding purpose in personalization.

Passion vs. Academics: Why Are They at Odds?

But I had a life outside of school that wasn’t measured on a report card. I’ve always loved learning how to make video games. As early as fifth grade, I was working on altering game files and learning programming languages for video game design. In the evening, I would study YouTube videos and online forums to teach myself this complex process. I also taught myself Photoshop and other digital media programs. I worked hard in the evenings and over the summer breaks to push myself and develop my knowledge of technology and programming. My progress in these areas was, of course, not reflected in my report card and I struggled to find time to balance my schoolwork and my passions.

Learn about how embedded reflection can be a powerful tool for students.

At AltSchool earlier this year, teachers and students worked together to implement a new take on parent-teacher conferences: Students were asked to collect and present evidence about how they are growing, not just in academics, but in life, too. I was going to have to show not just how I have grown as a student, but also as a friend, community member, and in my personal passion, which for me was video game development. I was excited for the chance to bring attention to a passion that I had kept private for many years.

"For our student-led conferences, students were asked to assess their growth in these four social and academic domains as well as provide evidence of their growth," Kat's educator David Rodriguez explains. "This allowed for deeper introspection about their progress and a way to pinpoint strengths and areas to develop."

Uniting My Passion and Personal Growth

In the past, I would try to make video game development a part of assignments for other subjects. This was the first time I would get to put those skills at the center. Not only that, I was being asked to provide evidence of how I had progressed in that area. My teachers asked me to identify the transferable skills that I used when working on video game development. I realized that video games taught me a lot about using failure as an opportunity. A video game developer’s job requires constantly revising their strategy.

The process of collecting evidence from throughout the school year to defend my self-assessment of growth was surprisingly pleasant because I had a chance to reflect on how far I’d come and how much further I needed to go to reach my goals. Sharing this growth with my parents, teachers, and friends made the process more rewarding.

Discover how Capture enables learner agency.
Presenting my paper on what video games can teach you about failure.

This student-led conference experience really highlighted how school and my personal passion are more connected than I originally thought. Video games require flexibility—locking yourself into one idea will never work because video game production typically takes years and things are bound to change. I can apply this understanding to my schoolwork because although a project may be much shorter, it doesn't mean change isn’t necessary. Moving forward into high school, I will prioritize not only my academic work, but my passions as well because I see how they complement each other.

Math and reading may still take longer for me than it does for others, but I now know that I am amazing at adjusting course during a long project. Understanding this about myself has made me confident that I have what it takes to be a video game developer someday.

Read more from our students: Exploring Implicit Bias Through AI
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