Fresno High class turns to a modern hero to study an ancient one

The Fresno BeeDecember 16, 2013 

A group of Fresno High School freshmen connected a hero of ancient Greek literature with a modern-day hero in an unusual way after school Monday.

Fourteen students sat in an hour-long Skype interview with Dale Comstock, an Army special forces veteran and author who now works as a contract security specialist in Hong Kong. The group, made up of students from several English classes studying Homer's Odysseus, took turns sitting in front of the computer, asking Comstock questions linking Odysseus' journey and hardships learned in class and comparing them to Comstock's own journey.

"It brings to life these words that have been pages for students," Fresno High Principal John Forbes said. "Students have demonstrated they read Odysseus, they used the text to create questions, then using those questions they ask a real-life person how that relates to his world."

Syaira Kerbow, 14, who eagerly sat in the front of the class, said experiences like this are what make school fun.

"You could relate it to what the ideal hero in our books are and see that he (Comstock) is a hero, but he's also human," Kerbow said. "It helps you learn and develop new ways to think about things. It captivates me more than just reading a book."

Comstock shared his own personal obstacles, including near-death experiences while in the Army, where he served with the 82nd Airborne, Green Berets and Delta Force during a nearly 20-year career. He filled various roles worldwide, including assault team leader, explosives expert and weapons expert. He spoke about the time he had to deliberately drive through an ambush, and when he marched through rugged terrain in Afghanistan. And he talked about the emotional pain of being away from his pregnant wife.

"Every time duty called, I went," he said. "God doesn't give you more than you can handle."

Students shared with him their knowledge of one of the most important Greek ideals -- Arete, meaning living up to one's potential. They highlighted the similarities between the Greek ideals and the Army's one-time motto: "Be all that you can be." Comstock said that motto kept him focused during difficult times.

"You're the captain of your ship," he told the teens. "You create your own destiny."

English teacher John Vinuela, who arranged the interview, said it was a great way to get teens actively learning while meeting the state's Common Core standards.

"It's taking one experience and linking it to a variety of classes -- social studies, English, and history." he said. "We're using this as a springboard into deeper subject matter when we get back to classes."

Vinuela, who served with the Navy Special Warfare Command for eight years, spotted Comstock on a Facebook page for warfare combat and Navy SEALs. Vinuela asked Comstock, author of "American Badass: The true story of a modern day Spartan," if he could teach his students about Comstock's journey. To Vinuela's suprise, he not only agreed but also suggested an online video call.

"I thought he was kidding me," Vinuela said. "Right now he's in Hong Kong; he doesn't have to do this."

Before the Skype call, Vinuela told the class he saw quite a bit of action when he served in the Navy, but nothing like what Comstock experienced, making a carreer out of it.

Vinuela said listening to Comstock's journey was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"He's a warrior in every sense of the word," he added.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6659, or @DianaT_Aguilera.

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