Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Power of Personal History in Education, A Research Proposal

What is the most powerful way to motivate students, especially urban middle school and high school students?

I've been working with children for 50 years as a teacher, social worker, counselor, and abuse investigator. The greatest danger to urban children is a lack of motivation and direction in middle school and high school.

University research is needed into the patterns and achievements that have emerged since 2005 with the School Time-capsule Project, students writing about their plans for the future and archiving those plans in a very visible time-capsule in their school.  The project has evolved such that now we encourage parents to write the first letters to their child about their dreams for them.  We ask parents to include a story from the family history they want their child to remember.  Then the child writes a response, a letter to themselves, about their own plans for the future.  Both letters go into a centrally located 500-pound vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby where they remain for the years in middle school, or in high school. The vault location should be very visible daily to students as they walk to and from class.  That provides potential for an occasional quiet reminder of the letters inside.  They may be reminded of what Mom wrote.

In both the 8th grade and the 12th grade those initial letters are returned, and final letters looking 10 years into the future are written.  They are then archived pending 10-year class reunions, 8th grade middle school reunions as well as the more normal 12th grade high school reunions.  The goal is to have these students return, retrieve their letters, and then perform a mentoring role when asked to speak with current students in the school. They will talk about their recommendations for success.  They will be prepared to answer questions such as, "What would you do differently if you were 13 again?"  Imagine what such annual reunion events at a Dallas middle school could do for the future focus of students in those schools.  The future focus would change with very positive results as we are already seeing.

Since 2005 the graduation rate at Sunset High School, the high school that most quickly embraced this Time-Capsule Project, has gone from a 33% graduation rate to one near 70%, with indications it will be beyond 80% by 2016!  (This is an urban, inner-city, high school with a poverty rate over 75%.) 

Research is needed into what is happening with this project.  How can this project be improved?  Why are these improvements in graduation rate being experienced?  How can this experience build toward college?  Should elements from this Time-Capsule Project be replicated at the College level?

University level research is needed.  Please share this page with anyone you know who may be searching for a graduate research project.

Bill Betzen