Monday, January 2, 2017

Building Self Respect

For fewer behavior problems and higher achievement in high poverty, urban schools

Children without life goals develop into adults without life goals. Behavior problems, teen pregnancies, and criminal behavior are all more common, while academic achievement is much more rare without life goals.
As students advance though school they have increasing ability to identify, document, and update life goals. Sadly, it is too rare that this growing ability is used for what should be a consistently recorded annual event in each student’s development, an event their parents or guardians should also be actively involved in so that they also can also identify their goals for their child. What are their goals as parents?  This project encourages parental involvement in the development of priceless parental goals for every student.
As both parents and students develop the ability to identify and update life goals, self-confidence and self-respect grows for all involved. With that growth, behavioral problems decrease and teen pregnancies will almost disappear. The best birth control in the world is self-control built on the foundation of a solid vision on one’s future life and goals. Negative behaviors lessen, and the potential for criminal behavior almost disappears, as a student’s grasp of future goals strengthens.
Such a future focused, life goal identification project called the Time Capsule Project, is now 12 years old in Dallas ISD. Quintanilla Middle School began a goal-focused project for student motivation in 2005. It started only with letters by 8th graders to themselves about their goals for 10 years into the future.  Those letters were to be opened after a decade in a huge vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby with 10 shelves inside for 10 years’ worth of letters.  The graduation rates at the high school most students attended immediately began to improve every year as discipline problems and other negative behaviors decreased.  
In 2009 parents and guardians were invited to join in with their own letters to their child about their dreams for their child. While only as many as 1/3 of parents wrote such valuable letters, that practice was encouraged as the evolving Time Capsule Project spread to 7 more middle schools.
All Time Capsule Project schools have seen their School Effectiveness Indices (SEI) measurements improve significantly faster than other DISD middle schools during the three academic years from 2013/14 through 2015/16. (See documentation in blogs at  The two oldest Time Capsule Project Schools have the highest three years average SEI of all 35 middle schools in Dallas ISD!  The remaining 5 schools had an average three year improvement of 6.7 points on their average SEI while the 24 remaining non-magnet middle schools in DISD had their annual SEI scores go down an average of 0.7 points.
In spite of this impressive increase in SEI scores for Time Capsule Project schools, the level of parental involvement by writing a letter to their child has rarely, if ever, gone above 30%. That changed in May of 2016 after the above SEI progress was documented. 
In the past, the request for this parental letter had always came from school staff in a letter sent home.  In May of 2016, Quintanilla changed the source of the request, and decided to have all three grades in the school to be involved.  The request for parents to write to their child about their dreams for their child now comes directly from that child in a letter the student writes in class to their parents.
Immediately the percentage of parents writing a letter to their child increased almost threefold to as much as 85%! When the request comes directly from their child, parents respond!
Remember, Quintanilla also stopped limiting involvement to only 8th graders. They expanded this priceless goal-centered letter writing between parent and child to all grades.
Due to the immediate success of these changes it is now recommended that Time Capsule Project schools have all students write one letter to each parent, and/or involved relative, each year asking them to write a letter back about their dreams for the student. Students in the fourth grade and above should also ask that one story from their family history be included in each letter, a story to be passed on to grandchildren. This strengthens a child's awareness of their family heritage, their roots, and provides priceless documentation of it.
A note from the school can be attached to each student’s letter sent home. It reinforces details about the Time Capsule Project. It recommends everyone writing a letter go over it with the student before the student brings it back it school.
At school, students then write a letter to themselves about their goals and how they will achieve them.  This letter includes stories students want to remember. When finished, each student places their letter, and all relative letters received, into the self-addressed envelope they should have addressed as the first thing to do in class, before writing their letters.  They use their complete home address with email and cell number placed in the second and third lines of the address above the street number and name on the envelope. The return address should have teachers name, the class, and the date the letter is written.  Addressing envelopes is critical so letters are not lost. The completed envelope is placed into the school’s time capsule, on the shelf dedicated to each student's class.
Each year the previous year’s envelopes are returned to students before the next letter writing process. In their request letter to each relative students include the letter written the year before. The year-old letters are read before new ones are written to update dreams and plans.
It is a growing process. Students are reminded of it as they see the 500-pound Time Capsule Vault often, passing it several times daily in the school lobby, where it should be centrally located under spotlights.
This process changes for students in their final year in their school before leaving for the next school in the educational process.  That last year letters are written with plans and dreams focused 10 years into the future.  These final envelopes remain in the time capsule for a decade, until the class 10-year reunion.
The third Quintanilla Middle School 10-year reunion to pick up letters will be in 2017 for the 8th grade class of 2007. It’s scheduled before Career Day to secure volunteers for Career Day. On Career Day, these volunteers talk to current students about life after middle school, their employment and preparation for it, and what they would do differently if they were 13 again.
Such annual goal-focused letter writing is now moving into the elementary grades in at least two DISD elementary schools. At what age could a child write such a powerful request to their parents in a letter? Writing the letter prepares the student to be more open to what their parents will write back.  
It is never too early for a child to discuss their life plans with parents. Nothing increases the potential for fewer behavioral problems than having an active vision of one’s future life, a vision that parents are involved with.
1-2-17 Bill Betzen,