In 2005 Quintanilla Middle School started a time-capsule project to focus students on their own plans for the future by having 8th graders, just before they leave for high school, write letters to themselves about future plans.
In 2009 letters by parents to their child about their dreams for their child were added to the project. A golden connection with families was created. More conversations at home about goals and the future are certainly happening. Quintanilla, with 1,200 students, and Sunset, with 2,300 students, have certainly improved. Benefits to date include:
- Even with a 95.7% poverty rate, student pregnancies at Quintanilla have been more than cut in half, from a “norm” of 4 to 5 student pregnancies a year, to only 2 pregnancies in 2011/12, and only one this year, 2012/13! Such is the power of active planning for the future.
- Quintanilla is the highest rated of all 19 DISD south side non-magnet middle schools! See 2013 Children at Risk school rating report: http://childrenatrisk.org/research/school-rankings/northtexas/
- Quintanilla Middle School now has the lowest frequency of discipline problems in District 1! In 2007/08 Quintanilla had 1,299 disciplinary actions recorded, over one per student. It appears they will finish the 2012/13 school year with less than 400 actions, or less than one for each three students.
- The graduation rate at Sunset High School, starting their own time-capsule project in 2009, has doubled since 2006. It has gone from 33% in 2006 to near 70% for the Class of 2013! Current Sunset enrollment is 579 freshmen and 522 seniors!
- With the increased family interactions from these parental letters, and the focus on planning for the future, gangs are less attractive.
- As students leave school for the last time, staff can begin to say “See you in 10 Years!” - The message is different. School culture is changing.
Change it to best meet needs at your school.
It is recommended letters be written twice in middle school and twice in high school: when a student enters in 6th or 9th grade, and just before they leave at the end of 8th or 12th grade. Parents should be invited to write the first letter each time, a letter to their child about their dreams for them. They are encouraged to also write stories from family history, stories they want their children to remember. Yes, it is hard to get letters from every parent. That does not always happen, but when a child may begin to fail during the school year, such letters become a much higher priority. The letter writing process can be used as needed to engage parents and their child when failures are indicated.
- Place the vault in a central location of the school to maximize the number of students who see it each day. They know their mother's letter is in the vault and what she wrote! That quiet presence seen daily may help students study harder.
- The first letters students and parents write upon a student entering your school should be returned as they prepare to write their final letters. The final letter looking 10 years into the future is written the final month in school. That letter should remain in the vault for 10 years.
- The placement of the final 10-year letters into the vault should involve photos given to students.Each Language Arts Class should pose in front of the vault holding their letters for the photo. Then they each place their letter on the shelf inside the vault for their class to remain there for a decade. They receive two copies of this photo, one for them and one for their parents. On the back of the photos are details about the 10-year class reunion, including phone numbers to call, 90 days before the reunion date, to volunteer to help plan the reunion.
- Students are told the final letters will be returned to them at the 10-year class reunion when they also will be asked to speak with the then current students. They know they will be giving their recommendations for success. They are warned to be prepared for questions like: “What would you do differently if you were 13 again?”
- Constantly learn from and modify your project. (Please also share what you learn with us.) The first reunions will start at Quintanilla in November of 2014. We will learn many things from these former students. We will continue to learn every year as students return every November for the annual reunions. What better way to constantly improve our schools than to listen, along with current students, to these former students who've lived a decade in the real world with the education we provided?