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At Von Steuben, Students' True Colors Are Shining Through

By Patty Wetli | January 4, 2013 2:58pm
 SILT member Sefonobong Obot (l) and the group's president, Tanya Selgado, are leading reform at Von Steuben High School.
SILT member Sefonobong Obot (l) and the group's president, Tanya Selgado, are leading reform at Von Steuben High School.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

ALBANY PARK — In the way that some people might announce "I'm a Pisces" or fans of the Myers-Briggs assessment might declare themselves an "ISFJ," students at Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center are determining whether they're blue, orange, green or gold.

The "True Colors" system, which identifies a student's particular learning style and assigns it one of the aforementioned hues, is the primary tool being promoted by the Student Instructional Leadership Team (SILT) as a means of creating a collaborative environment between students and teachers.

SILT president Tanya Selgado, a Von Steuben senior, recently presented the nuts and bolts of the program to members of the school's Local School Council.

"All students are different and learn differently," she said, adding that True Colors acknowledges those differences by giving "students a form of language to use with peers or teachers" and helping them "understand how they think and how others think."

After ranking themselves on a scale of one to four on personality traits like "daring," "concerned," "tender" and "determined," students receive their corresponding color.

Orange" students, for example, benefit from hands-on learning activities, whereas "gold" students require clearly written instructions, explained Delgado. "Green" students need to go beyond what's taught in the classroom and challenge conventional thinking, while "blue" students tend to be emotional and require a certain amount of personal connection.

Through True Colors, teens now have a terminology that provides a way to communicate their specific instructional needs to teachers.

SILT grew out of a professional development session that left Von Steuben Principal Pedro Alonso wondering, "Why is it always adult-led reform? Why not involve kids? They're an untapped resource."

He invited a small group of student leaders — members of student council and presidents of various organizations and clubs — to take part in a three-day training session held during summer 2012, which was led by education professors from Eastern Michigan University.

This cadre of "innovators," representing less than 3 percent of Von Steuben's 1,650 enrollment, is now tasked with gradually spreading the program throughout the student body, largely via weekend workshops.

The plan is for rollout to follow a classic bell curve, with growth coming in stages. The next phase is to reach "early adopters," which should get SILT to 13 percent of the student population.

"Once we have that 13 percent, it's like dominoes falling," said Delgado.

Current efforts are aimed at reaching out to freshmen, particularly those who struggled academically their first semester. For the 2013-14 school year, the goal is to train all incoming freshman on the True Colors system.

"Advocate for yourself, raise your hand," are just two of the messages Selgado said are impressed upon students.

"We can't just tell [students], 'Learn these equations,'" said Alonso, who, for the record, is a green. "You have to be more mindful of how you get that done."

Jennifer Roden, physics and engineering teacher at Von Steuben, 5039 N. Kimball Ave., said True Colors boils down to being conscious of the need to vary her technique to suit a range of personalities.

"Have I told ['gold'] their homework? Did I pat 'blue' on the shoulder? 'Green' — am I giving them a challenging problem?" she said. "It's about giving kids options."