Thursday, June 2, 2016

Parental Involvement more than doubled in a middle school!

Written parental dreams for a child can become a treasured possession. Sadly for the years since 2009 when a project to get such letters from parents started, a 30% response rate was about the best achieved. Now that has changed to over 80%! 

The process of discussing these goals within the heritage of the family, and updating those dreams over time, changes lives. The world becomes a very different place, especially in middle school and high school.

The School Time-Capsule Project started in 2005.  Then it was only focused on students writing letters to themselves at the end of 8th grade.  Since 2009 the project has encouraged parents, and/or important relatives, to write letters to their student about their dreams for them. Such potentially priceless letters have rarely been written for more than 30% of students. A copied request for this letter sent home with students has not been very effective in getting parents to write. 

A new approach was started in 2016. 

First, instead of being only an 8th grade exercise the letter writing was expanded to be done by all students in Quintanilla, all three grades. 
Second, students themselves wrote a personal letter to their parents asking for a letter back about their dreams for them. 

The results have been dramatic. As many as 85% of students have now received one or more such priceless letters back, almost a 200% increase! 

The letter may not be written in English, but that makes no difference!  It is priceless.

Students also ask for one story from their family history to be included in the letter, a story the writer of the letter wants them to remember 30 years into the future, an important piece of their family heritage and history.

The resulting letters should be immediately shared with and studied by the students at home so any questions can be answered.  That often leads to valuable discussions at home.

Then the letters are all brought to school and used in Language Arts Class as students write letters to themselves about their own plans for the future.

Parents and/or relatives should be prepared to write such letters to their child every year from 6th through 12th grade, until their child graduates from high school. 

A child changes greatly in just one year.  Each letter will be different, with a different story from their family history.  The more a child knows about their family history, both painful stories and wonderfully positive stories, the better.  It all helps ground a child in a valuable personal heritage providing a solid foundation for life, and for school work. 

A written record is being created.

All the letters for each child (more than one relative can write a letter) would be placed into one self-addressed envelope for each student, along with the student's own letter to themselves, and then stored in the school time-capsule, a 500-pound vault bolted to the floor in a prominent place in the school lobby.

The vault is not necessary if teachers have other ways of storing such priceless letters. 

If parents immediately see how priceless these letters are, they can certainly ask to keep the letter at home and only send photocopies to school to place inside the time-capsule. Or a photo copy can be kept at home.  Such requests are certainly understandable regarding all these letters. 

Each year the letters from the previous year are returned to the child and family for use in preparing to write new letters. That changes with the 8th grade letters that are written with plans for 10 years into the future. The 8th grade letters remain in the time-capsule for a decade. 

A student can also choose to collect all three years of letters for placement into the final envelope that is kept secure in the vault for a decade.  It is a potentially powerful record of their middle school years.

Students must know that upon their return to get back their letters in 10 years they will also be invited to speak with current students about their recommendations for success.  Such priceless mentoring has already started at Quintanilla Middle School with the reunion of the Class of 2006.  It will now be an annual event, making the future ever more real for Quintanilla students. Achievement at Quintanilla should continue to improve.

In high school the annual letter writing pattern continues.  The final 12th grade letter will also be planning for 10 years into the future. 

Imagine how powerful high school 10-year reunions will be as students read their letters, and their parents letters, once again.  Most important, imagine the power of what these former students can say to students sitting in the same seats they were in a decade earlier!

These are the plans working within the School Time-Capsule Project as of June of 2016. We have just completed the second 10-year reunion at Quintanilla Middle School.

Graduation rates for Quintanilla students have more than doubled and continue to rise.  Behavior problems are down and pregnancy rates are down. The most recent School Effectiveness Index (SEI) for Quintanilla is the highest of all 35 middle schools in Dallas ISD!  The chart below was made from the listing of all SEI scores for middle schools in DISD found in the DISD Data Portal at  
School Effectiveness Indices (SEI) details and history are online at 
These achievements happened in spite of the 96 percent poverty rate for Quintanilla students, which places Quintanilla within the most poverty stricken third of all middle schools in Dallas ISD!  In addition, discipline problems and pregnancy rates at Quintanilla have dropped dramatically since 2006.  The best birth control is active personal planning for the future!

Again, this year was the first year that all students wrote letters for the Quintanilla Time-Capsule.  It used to be only an 8th grade activity, but Quintanilla wants to raise their record SEI score even higher than the 59.3 in the above chart.  This change will intensify the focus on a future grounded in family heritage for all students in all grades.  With the return of the previous year's letters it should help lead to improved letter writing and planning in the 7th and 8th grades.  

Quintanilla will stay on top with the highest SEI, unless other middle schools begin to also have a more effective future focus with all of their students, the best competition possible for Dallas ISD students!

Actively planning for their futures, in active cooperation with parents and relatives sharing family heritage and dreams with them, will continue to help students of poverty achieve more like, and in some cases certainly better than, middle class students from any Dallas suburb! The progress must continue.