Thursday, February 3, 2011

Texas Education Progress Survival: DIY students

Trillions of hours of annual do-it-yourself (DIY) labor are the power behind our nation's ingenuity and growth. DIY work is also the power behind any student's success in middle school, high school, or college.

Until a student takes ownership for their own success in school, with personal goals they claim as their own, DIY efficiency doesn't happen. The process of setting life goals is a more normal process in small town and agrarian settings. It is too often lost in the rush of modern urban settings. If Texas inflicts the currently proposed budget cuts on our students, it will only be with expanding such DIY student efforts that current Texas Educational Progress will survive.

Texas secondary schools do not focus early enough, or strong enough, on the life goals students need to drive such DIY effort. Consequently students too rarely embrace the critical DIY ownership needed for their own education. School is something done to them, not something they understand as a resource toward personal goals. Thus one out of three Texas students drop out, one of the highest dropout rates in the nation!

By middle school the personal goals needed to drive DIY student energy should be expressed and documented.  Such goals should be a comfortable topic of conversation. DIY student ownership of the educational process should grow to dominate personal decisions long before high school graduation.

The School Archive Project started in 2005 with a strong focus on long-term goals. That focus, combined with dynamic personal leadership at the schools, has helped liberate the DIY student energy in the targeted high schools. The major high school targeted with this project has seen graduation rates go from 33% to over 60% in 4 years.    We are just beginning to see the power of DIY students empowered with strong long term goals.

Putting such goals into written form starts in the School Archive Project with parents writing a letter to their child about their own dreams for their child. That letter is then used by the student in writing a letter to themselves about their own history and goals for the future.  Both letters are placed into the same self-addressed envelope, one envelope for each student. That sealed envelope is then placed on the shelf for that class inside the 500-pound vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby. The vault is very visible and seen by students several times every school day, a reminder of the dreams and goals in their letters.  It is also a reminder of their planned 10-year class reunion when these envelopes will be opened. That is also when they will be invited to speak with then current students about their recommendations for success. They know to expect questions such as: "What would you do differently if you were 13 again?"

These 10-year class reunions should become a priceless source of feedback for teachers most dedicated to constantly improving their work with each new class of students.

The current Texas educational budget crisis requires new, tax free resources for our schools, including better ways to focus our students onto their own lives. Now is certainly when Texas needs such a low-cost, $1 per student (usually donated), resource as a School Archive Project in every secondary school. Our students must focus by middle school on their own long term goals, and update that focus constantly as they move toward graduation.  They must be motivated to work on their own DIY student efforts in order to get the education they will need to be employable in 2020.

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