It was a warm spring Friday afternoon on April 11 at the Weekes Community Center in Hayward. Nearby, Weekes Park was filled with students from local elementary and middle schools, enjoying the pleasant day and playing soccer with friends.

A few families were celebrating with a picnic, and the smell of grilled chicken and refried beans filled the air.

This picture seems nearly perfect, but in the midst of this idyllic afternoon, I found myself confronting the less rosy reality, that students in local elementary schools in the Tennyson area require far more tutoring and homework aid than students in other school districts. What causes this statistical disparity in performance among regional schools, and what solution to this issue should we engage with as a community?

That same day, my friend Karthik Kalyanaraman and I were hosting an event about educational awareness in the Weekes Community Center. As a tutor at Glassbrook Elementary School, I found that many of my students grasped new concepts very quickly, but most of them lacked the inspiration to learn.

I realized that students in such elementary schools need some stimulation -- a spark, per se, that will get them more excited about education. So, I decided to try something unconventional to provide this inspiration.

I invited the children in the nearby park to attend my event in the community center. The notion of food, prizes and fun activities was more than enough to catch their attention, and Councilman Francisco Zermeño's short talk made them very excited about what was to come next.


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We divided the students into teams and provided numerous materials, such as paper plates, duct tape and cups, and asked them to build the longest standing bridge they possibly could. When I added that the team with the best bridge would win a special prize, the group of wide-eyed 8- and 10-year-olds turned busily to building.

The designs they came up with were phenomenal. Some of these students were completely new to each other, yet they worked together almost seamlessly to produce amazing bridges.

This proves that not only this part of Hayward, but many similar places as well, have a wealth of hidden talent.

Through the activity, these students learned what kinds of things they enjoy and excel at. They learned whether they could be capable leaders of a group, or whether they were adept at building or designing, and in what ways they could be resourceful while producing these magnificent structures.

I hope that this newfound wisdom will inspire them to pursue related activities and strive to excel at them, and many have already talked about ways to expand their extracurricular participation.

This should be a priority of school boards: to get students more involved by helping them find their passion.

This can be done by encouraging students to try out a variety of extracurricular activities, having after-school programs where students could learn interesting things outside the classroom, or simply holding similar events. Nevertheless, this discovery will lead to greater extracurricular involvement and more concern about classroom education.

These students are very capable and creative, and they will excel at things they enjoy. They just need some help discovering these passions -- and a little bit of inspiration could go a long way.

Omkar Salpekar is a sophomore at Moreau Catholic High School and resident of Hayward.