Student Achievement

Respect the Gift

By Kevin Bushweller — January 16, 2007 1 min read

The tale of the hard working immigrant teenager who balances the demands of school with the responsibilities of home has been told so many times that it has become a predictable narrative that many readers look at and say: “I’ve seen that story before.”

Yet I hope readers’ familiarity with such storylines does not prevent them from digging a little deeper into what lessons can be learned from hard working immigrant kids that can be used to heighten motivation among typical U.S. students.

Recently, I was reading our local weekly community newspaper, The Old Bridge Observer, a small, understaffed but loveable little paper that frequently runs photos of ribbon cutting ceremonies on its front page and soft features about the good deeds of local schools inside the paper. (The paper is also not on the Web.)

For a story in the Jan. 13 edition of the paper, staff writer Kate Godfrey held a roundtable discussion with 20 eighth graders from Woodbridge Middle School in Prince William County, Va. The 20 students were all immigrants. The message in the article, directed at the typicial U.S. student, was anything but soft.

In very frank comments, the 20 boys and girls told Godfrey that students born in the U.S. need to be more appreciative of all the opportunities that exist here. And they said their U.S.-born peers need to be more motivated to take advantage of those opportunities.

One female student told Godfrey: “I think American parents are too easy on their children. They need to expect more of them.”

I agree, because sometimes I need to do just that with my own children.

At the beginning of every youth lacrosse season that I coach, I tell my players they have been given a gift: The opportunity to play and get better at lacrosse. I tell them that many boys, for different reasons, are not given that gift of opportunity. As a result, they must respect that gift.

But the cynical side of me wonders how many of them, because they are so used to having so much, truly realize when opportunities are virtually dropped in their laps.

How do we get this generation to respect the gift of opportunity and then transform it into heightened motivation? How do we prevent a sense of entitlement, so pervasive in today’s society, from becoming a motivation killer in school and on athletic fields?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.