Unmotivated students with no focus on their own futures, and no plans, are a major agony for all teachers, especially in middle schools and high schools. Many methods have been used over the years to attack this common secondary school problem. The School Archive Project is a modification of one of those methods, students writing letter to themselves about their goals and dreams for reading again sometime in the future.The difference is that instead of a shoe box or similar storage for letters, we use a centrally located 530-pound vault, similar to the one on the right. This photo is of the Quintanilla Middle School vault, now almost filled with letters.
With the addition of letters from parents, a golden connection with families is created. More conversations at home about goals and the future are certainly happening. While it has not been verified by formal research as to what has caused what, Quintanilla and Sunset have certainly improved.The benefits seen to date, and anticipated, include the following:
- Quintanilla now has among the lowest frequency of documented discipline problems in District 1.
- The graduation rate at Sunset High School has doubled since 2006, and it is now ready to go up another 20% over the next 3 years!
- The student pregnancy rate at Quintanilla has been cut in half. Plus a new record has been set at Quintanilla, a 1,200 student, 95.7% poverty rate inner-city middle school. This year there was only one student pregnancy! Last year there had been only 2.
- With the increased family interactions from these letters, and the focus on the future, gangs are less attractive.
- Quintanilla is the highest rated DISD south side non-magnet middle school in the 2013 Children at Risk school rating report: http://childrenatrisk.org/research/school-rankings/northtexas/ .
- As students leave school for the last time, staff begin to say “See you in 10 Years!” - The message is different. School culture is changing.
The School Archive Project is an “open source” project. Change it as you want to best meet the needs at your school.
- Each one of the two times letters are written at either a middle school or in a high school (beginning of 6th or 9th grade and the end of 8th or 12th grade) parents should be invited to write the first letters. They write a letter to their child about their dreams for them. They are encouraged to also document stories from family history that they would like their children to remember. Yes, it is hard to get letters from every parent. That does not always happen. But when a child may begin to fail these letters become a much higher priority. The letter writing process can be used, as needed, to help engage parents, and their child to avoid failures.
- Place the vault in a central location of the school to maximize the number of students who pass by it each day. They know their mother's letter is in the vault and what she wrote! That quiet presence may help many students study harder.
- The first letters students and parents wrote upon a student entering your school should be returned as they prepare to write their final letter. That final letter is looking 10 years into the future and is written the final month a student is in your school. When the final letters are written before a child leaves your school, that letter should remains in the vault for 10 years.
- The placement of the final letters into the vault should involve photos. Each Language Arts Class can pose in front of the vault holding their letters. Then they place the letters on the shelf for their class where they remain for a decade. They receive two copies of that photo, one for them and one for their parents. On the back of both photos are the dates for the 10-year class reunion with phone numbers to call for volunteer to help plan the reunion, or to update addresses.
- Students are told the final letters will be returned to them at the 10-year class reunion when they also will be asked to speak with the then current students. They are told that at their reunion they will be requested to speak with current students about their recommendations for success. They are warned to be prepared for questions like:
“What would you do differently if you were 13 again?”
- Constantly learn from and modify this project. (Please also share what you learn with us.) The first reunions will start for Quintanilla Middle School in November of 2014. We will learn many things from these former students. We will continue to learn every year as students continue to return every November for the annual reunions. What better way to constantly improve our schools than to listen, along with our current students, to these former students who have lived a decade in the real world with the education we provided them?