Sunday, January 22, 2017

What are your dreams for me?

A parent’s dreams for their child drive school achievement best when they are updated at least annually, and discussed at home.
Due to ongoing improvements in student achievement in schools with active Time Capsule Projects, Dallas ISD is preparing to place the two letter writing lessons from the Time Capsule Project into the DISD Language Arts curriculum.  Beginning in the 3rd grade, and then annually through the 12th grade, all students will have these two connected letter writing lessons each year. A 10-year Time Capsule component may be seen as an additional alternative.

With these two lessons added to the writing curriculum, hopefully a core of volunteers will form at each school to help in the writing and collection of letters from students, and then the storing and returning of them to students a year later.  This will happen for all students except, of course, the students no longer at the school, the students who went on to middle school or high school the previous year. Those final year letters are not returned for a decade.  They must be stored for the reunions that volunteers help plan and coordinate in 10 years.  


This is exceptionally rewarding volunteer work! Observing students begin to become serious about planning their futures, and then the reunions, are all powerfully positive events. Volunteers see progress happen, and students who are proud of achievements.

The letter writing instructions change for students in their final year in their school before leaving for the next school in their educational process.  The letters written the last year in a school are written with plans and dreams focused 10 years into the future.  These final envelopes remain in the school time capsule vault, or are otherwise stored, for a decade, until the class 10-year reunion.  It is recommended the final letters be written during the last month in the school year. These letters will be documenting plans as they existed at the end of this time in the child's education in that elementary school, or middle school, or high school. 

Needless to say the complexity and quality of the letters will grow from year to year.

The first letter writing assignments are recommended for the start of each school year in all grades except the final grade in each school.  That final 10-year letter should be written toward the end of the school year.

The letter writing process starts with students writing one or more letters to their parents, and/or other important people in their lives. They write this letter to ask for a letter back about that person's dreams for them.  This "What are your dreams for me?" letter also requests one story from their family or cultural history to be included in the letter. It is a story that the person writing the letter considers so valuable they would like that story to be passed on someday to the student's children.

Such a story would strengthen a child's awareness of their own heritage, their roots, and their community history.  These letters will provide priceless connections, priceless records of family stories.  A different story should be told each year.


A note from the school is attached to each student’s letter written.  The note will reinforce details about the letter writing assignment. It recommends everyone writing a letter go over it with the student before the student brings the letter back to school. Priceless conversations will happen.
Back at school with the letter(s), the first thing students do is prepare a self-addressed envelope for all these letters.  The return address on the envelope should include their teacher's name, the date, and the school's return address. It will be addressed to them at their home address with email address and cell phone number also recorded on the envelope.

Students then write a letter to themselves about their goals and how they will achieve them.  This student letter may include other stories students want to remember. When finished, each student places their letter, and all their other letters from parents, relatives and others, into the self-addressed envelope they prepared. This completed envelope is then placed into the school’s time capsule, on the shelf dedicated to each student's class, or it is otherwise stored by the school.
Each year the previous year’s envelope is returned to each student before the next letter writing process. In their next request letter to each relative students include the letter written by that relative the year before. The year-old letters are read before new ones are written to update dreams and plans, and to see what was being thought about a year earlier. How has the writer of the letter seen the student change?  

Students may want to reclaim these older letters to have a file of them at home that will grow over the years.  It is a growing process. 

Students are reminded of it often if they are in a school with a 500-pound Time Capsule Vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby that they pass daily. They see the vault and maybe they are reminded of the letters that are in it from their family. Hopefully the vault is even under spotlights to increase visibility and reinforce the value of planning for the future.
This year will be the third 10-year reunion at Quintanilla Middle School. It will be in April or May of 2017 for the 8th grade class of 2007. It’s scheduled before Career Day to secure volunteers for Career Day from the students coming to the reunion to pick up their decade old letters. 

On Career Day 2017, these volunteers from the Class of 2007 will talk to current students about life after middle school, their employment and preparation for it, and what they would do differently if they were 12 again.
Such annual goal-focused letter writing is now moving into the elementary grades in several DISD elementary schools. Writing this letter to parents and other adults prepares a student to be more open to what they will receive back in the letters they will receive.  
It is never too early for a child to discuss their life plans with parents and others. 

As the years pass, with this letter writing between parent and child happening, the potential for parental involvement in school will grow.  Parents will improve in their understanding of what is happening in school. Their understanding of goals possible with education will improve. They will be more comfortable asking questions.

The School Effectiveness Indices for the involved schools will continue to rise, especially above schools with a less active Time Capsule Projects.   See some of the data and history of this project as it improved over the years. See http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2016/10/dallas-isd-time-capsule-project_28.html

1-22-17 Bill Betzen, bbetzen@aol.com