Friday, July 2, 2010

The Dropout Prevention Two-step - a summary of the School Archive Project

The first step is dropout rate transparency. Every school district should have a multi-year enrollment by grade spreadsheet online for each school, with graduation numbers for each year.

High dropout rates seen with such transparency will initially make people angry, but it gives a place to start. Progress can then be tracked from data that is already being collected, but is simply data not visible in this format online for US public schools. Dropout rate patterns and progress will now be more clearly exposed.

The second step is to understand that our students must want to stay in school for the right reasons, not because the classroom is an effective detention facility! Students must be focused on their own futures in as concrete and physical a way as is possible. They will better envision the value of education.

To achieve the future focus a Dallas middle school started the School Archive Project in 2005. It is a 10-year time capsule and class reunion project. It involves a 350-pound vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby to function as the 10-year time-capsule. The School Archive holds letters 8th grade students write to themselves about their history and plans for the future. Students can place several letters into their envelope for the vault. In addition to the letter to themselves, they can include letters from their parents, or a teacher, about their dreams for the student.

At the end of the year, before students go on to high school, there is a small ceremony wherein students pose in front of the School Archive, with their Language Arts Class, holding their sealed letters for a photo. They then place their letters inside the vault.

Students receive a copy of this photo with information on the back about their 10-year class reunion. They are reminded that they will be invited at that 10-year reunion to speak with then current 8th grade classes about their recommendations for success. They are warned to prepare for questions such as; “Would you do anything differently if you were 13 again?”

Thinking of answering such a question in 10 years helps students realize the value of current school work. They must build their own futures. Nobody is going to do it for them.

The first students to write letters for the School Archive graduated in 2009 as members of the largest 12th grade class in over a decade! The Class of 2010 then significantly improved the graduation rate of the Class of 2009!

This project has now spread to 6 schools within Dallas ISD. It is a simple project helping teachers do what teachers have always done, focus students onto their own futures.

At a cost that is about a dollar per child per year, this is a project all schools should have. It only requires one dedicated teacher as project manager who is also interested in motivating students to write more, to better understand the flow of time and history, and to graduate.

Bill Betzen
The School Archive Project
It is requested that you share any improvements to the School Archive Project you may develop.