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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Digital Youth Q&A: Olivia

Learn about Olivia in this in-depth interview.
By Carl Bidleman

My name is Olivia. I'm 17. One day, I told Dawn, my Big Brothers, Big Sisters mentor, "Let's make you a MySpace," and she said, "Oh, I really don't need one." And I told her it was fun, and so we made one. I helped her figure out where'd you go to find messages and where to go to look for something. She's pretty good at it now.

See Olivia's full portrait.

Edutopia.org: Tell me a bit about yourself.

Olivia: When people first meet me, I'm a little shy. I'm open minded. People love being around me because I always keep the spirit up. If people are down, I'll always have something to smile about or keep someone's spirit up.

Describe your family.

My dad left when I was seven, and my mom, we've been back and forth between San Bruno, Oakland, Treasure Island, San Francisco. The people that live with me are my mom, my older brother, my grandma, my two younger siblings, and me. And my other sister's in a group home.

Describe your school.

You could call it a continuation school, or you could call it credit recovery or just a regular high school. They make us feel like home here. They're not in our lives, but they're there to support us. Coming to school here is real fun. Everyone gets along and talks about their own opinions and life.

Talk about your history as a student, and where you're at now.

As a student, in middle school, I stayed through the whole three years there at Francisco Middle School, and then I went to Galileo High School, down by North Beach. I was there for ninth grade, and then I went partially for tenth, and then I started getting off track, skipping and not wanting to go. And then, after that, I stopped going to school for a month or two, and then people started nagging me and saying, "Why aren't you in school?" or "What do you wanna do?"

So then I tried Ida B. Wells, which is a continuation school in the Fillmore, and I only went there for a couple days. It didn't work out for me, because I was still in the habit of skipping and not really wanting to go to school. And then, the people in my building, the support services downstairs, were talking about Job Corps, so then I tried Job Corps and I thought it would be cool because I'd be getting out of the house and living on the island and just doing my own thing.

It didn't work out, but this program was around the corner from my house. I knew it was there, but I never gave it a thought. And so then I started going there. I liked it. It was just around the corner, and classes were small, and you could get work done and more individual help, which I needed because I was really slacking off in school. Everything was going fast in regular high schools.

I stopped going to this school for about a month or two. And then I started coming back as a student, and the teachers were all skeptical about me keeping on track, because I was skipping a lot. Since I've come back here, I've been on top of everything. I wanted to get my stuff done and get my future started.

What was it that got you to come back?

Well, it was a bunch of people nagging me every day, "Why aren't you in school?" And a bunch of people in my building support me and know how my family is and what kind of struggles we go through every month. My boyfriend was nagging me to go to school, and so I listened and went back to school. I want to get on track.

Briefly describe your neighborhood.

There are a lot of drugs in my neighborhood. When I go out to the store or to a friend's house around the corner, I'm cautious, watching my back, because you never know what someone's going to do. I've had three guns pulled on me in different situations, and it was crazy. I just would see my life flash before my eyes. It's just real crazy around that neighborhood. My mom wants to get out, but it's kind of a hard situation.

What do you do in your spare time?

If I have money, I'll call a couple of friends, my best friend from school, and we'll plan on going to see a movie or kicking it at the house, or roam around the city.

Describe the people in your life who are inspirational to you.

My mentor, Dawn, inspires me in different ways. In elementary school, there was a Boys and Girls Club across the way, and I would go there all the time, and they started talking to us about Big Brothers, Big Sisters and if we wanted a mentor. I finally met Dawn. At first I was shy, but at the time, there was a bunch of family stuff going on, and I wanted to get out of the house. She was like my getaway.

We got to know each other, and she helped me a lot during middle school. With her, I've done things that I would probably never do in my life, like go to amusement parks and camping in Yosemite.

You helped her get into the digital age a little bit.

I would always talk about MySpace and tell her I was talking to a friend I hadn't seen in many years. One day, I told Dawn, "Let's make you a MySpace," and she said, "Oh, I really don't need one." And I told her it was fun, and so we made one. She's a big Oakland A's fan, so we added an A's background and added some of her music. I helped her figure out where'd you go to find messages and where to go to look for something. She's pretty good at it now. She writes to me on MySpace now.

Tell me about your iPod.

I got my iPod from the Big Brothers, Big Sisters event. It's like my life, because I feel like if I don't have it, I'm off track or I don't like have a good day, because I need music to keep me going. I wouldn't know what to do without the iPod.

I use it almost every day. In the morning, I'll use it on the way to school, and I'll use it during school if we're doing independent studies and the teacher says we can use it. And during break, during lunchtime, after school, going home. And sometimes, if I'm in my room, I'll hook it up to the speaker and play it there. Or my mom will take it sometimes. So I practically use it all the time.

Tell me about the music you have on it.

I have some underground music from Fremont or New York or East Palo Alto, some Bay Area music, some reggaeton, some R&B, and just miscellaneous things. The music on my iPod is important to me, because if my mom and me aren't agreeing or something, then I'll just go into my room and listen to it. If I can't go somewhere physically, I can go somewhere with the iPod. I like to listen to music and try to get the song down so I can sing it. If I like the beat, then I'll just listen to it for the beat.

Do you remember the first computer you ever used?

I don't remember. I probably used them before middle school, but I think middle school was when I really started using them.

Where do you use a computer?

The places I go to get access for a computer are either at school, downstairs in my building, or if I'm at a friend's house. In middle school, I used to go to the Apple store to check MySpace. If they catch you doing it now, they'll tell you to get off.

Tell me about the computer in the basement.

The computer in the basement is for anybody that lives in the building or needs to do research or whatever. Mostly the kids are on it, or people in our building that go to college. It's open from 9 in the morning until 6. On weekends, it's not open, because Support Services isn't open.

My boyfriend gave me a hard drive with no screen. The school is recycling a bunch of old screens and said they'd give me one. Once I have that started, I'll set it up somewhere in my room. My mom was talking about getting Internet, but she doesn't know until all the bills get situated and stuff. Then she'll see if she's gonna get Internet again.

Is there a computer available to you most of the time that you want to use it?

If I really wanted to get on the computer every day, I could either do it at school, or on the weekends I can go to a friend's house. So, either way, if I needed a computer, I could find a way to use it. When I'm downstairs on the computer at home, I'll probably spend about two, four, maybe five hours if I lose track or if there's no school or something like that -- I'll just be on there all day, either searching for something I found interesting or on MySpace or emails or Jewel Quest.

How do you use the computer for school?

We use the computers for our final project before the semester ends. I'll use it for a résumé, a cover letter, or anything I need to research for jobs. We mostly use it for essays. The Scholars Program uses it more for essays, and when I get to Scholars, I'll be doing more.

Tell me about how you use your cell phone.

I use it almost every second of the day when I'm not in school. Even when I'm in school, I'll just fiddle with it. I text almost all the time -- friends while they're in class or while they're at work or something. When I didn't have a phone, I would connect with friends on the computer or I would see them at school or on the street, and we just made plans from there. Or I would borrow my mom's phone and use hers or my grandma's phone.

In terms of your class, how much access do you and your classmates have to computers?

Every kid in the class could get Internet access if they wanted to from a friend or at the library. But only a few, about three or four people, have a computer in their house. Most kids could get Internet access if they wanted to. I think more than half of the students have MySpace pages.

What do you like about MySpace?

They have little apps on there now that you can put on and take off of your MySpace. To redo my page, I'll go on to a couple of Web sites and find a new page that I like and put it on there and fix my MySpace up to my liking. I write to friends on MySpace, but not as much as I did in middle school, because that's when I had tons of friends around me all the time and they were constantly writing me.

What do you envision for your future?

I'm going to graduate from this school, and then they are going to send me off to college -- and, hopefully, that works out, which I know it will. Before, I used to say I was going be a chef or a masseuse, and then it was nursing. And then I told myself, "Yes, I want to be in the medical field, but I want something more exciting, like an EMT." And, maybe later on in life, I'll go on to better things, like an RN or maybe a doctor. Who knows?

Carl Bidleman is a producer for Edutopia video.

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