Monday, November 27, 2017

More precious than diamonds... More valuable than gold...

This is the Greiner Middle School Time Capsule. William Fields, a Greiner TAG teacher at the time, started this Dallas ISD School Time Capsule Project in 2010. These are words he placed on the vault in 2010. It is a very positive statement, that has been proven more than accurate, about the power of students planning in writing for their own lives and their own futures. (See .  At the bottom of this posting see how to buy a vault for Christmas and change your local school!)
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Nothing will lower poverty levels in Dallas more than if every school in the city has an annual set of letter-writing lessons wherein all students both connect with their roots and plan for their futures.
This is the heart of the School Time Capsule Project. Students write letters to their parents, and other important adults in their lives, every year from third grade through 12th grade asking for letters to be written back to them.
They only ask for two things in the return letter. They ask for each adults' dreams for them, and they ask each adult, parents and others, to include one story from their family or community history they consider valuable enough they want it passed on someday to the students' children.
Imagine a collection of 10 such stories about each parent's family recorded by the time your child graduates! They will know more about their roots, their community, than any students today!
In the process their attitude toward writing will change!
Students read the letters and ask questions of parents, and the other people they may have asked to write letters, about their letters. Students then bring the letters to school. First they prepare a self-addressed envelope to hold all their letters. Then they write a letter to themselves about their own plans to be included in that envelope. All letters are sealed into the prepared envelope and placed into the school time capsule, on the shelf for that students class.
The vault installed at Greiner Middle School in 2010 is now filled with 7 years of letters students have written to themselves planning their futures. Class reunions start in three more years!
This year will be the fourth such 10-year reunion at Quintanilla.
Imagine the power of these reunions! They are planned before Career Day so volunteers can be recruited from the returning alumni to talk on Career Day to current students about life after 8th grade! How did they choose their professions? What recommendations do they give for success? What would they do differently if they could be 12 years old again?
Six middle schools are now actively doing this in Dallas: Browne, Boude Storey, Greiner, Quintanilla, Rosemont & Zumwalt. It is no accident that all of them are well above average in achievement. The lowest School Effectiveness Indices (SEI) score among these 6 schools is still the 13th best of all 33 middle schools!
Four of these 6 are among the top 5 performing middle schools of all 33 middle schools in Dallas! Browne Middle school, which would have been in its 5th year as a failing IR school, now has the highest SEI of all middle schools in Dallas! That is the power of future planning well done with parents involved. While I do not know the parental letter writing percentages at Browne, at Quintanilla it was as high as 85%!
This project is now moving into more schools from 3rd through 12th grade.
Help your local school become a higher achieving school. Buy them a vault for Christmas! Go to the blog at to see how to buy a 770-pound vault for your school for $775, on sale till 12-17-17 at Delivery is included! Just coordinate with the principal and have the vault delivered to the school lobby, or another location where it can be seen by students every day. The more often they think of the letters from their parents, and they letters they themselves wrote, the better.
Please share this posting with people you know have the money to help your local schools have this $775 vault, or maybe the $150 in supplies it takes to put in the 10 shelves, donated to your school for Christmas. Then recruit, and/or become one of the volunteers willing to study and get the project going.
Too many Dallas students do not know their roots, or their plans for the future. If that changes, starting in the third grade, so will the poverty level for the next generation!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Christmas Present for Your School 2017

The most valuable Christmas present you could give your local school is to introduce them to the School Time Capsule Project and, if they agree, purchase a $775 vault, now on sale until 12-17-17 at Costco online. This is the 43 cubic foot vault on sale:
This vault would go into the lobby of the school, or another high student traffic location so the maximum number of students see it daily. Ten shelves would need to be installed inside the vault for 10 years worth of letters from parents, relatives, and students.  They would be writing valued stories in these letters from family history and dreams for the future with plans for achieving those dreams.

Such reflecting on history and planning for the future has helped create the highest performing middle schools among the 33 middle schools in Dallas ISD. See blog posting below. The Time Capsule Project has now been approved by DISD to be used from 3rd through 12th grade for helping students focus on their futures and know their past.

Bill Betzen 

School Time Capsule Project Update 11-10-17

School achievement is driven by motivated students who know where they came from, their roots, and where they are going, their plans. Students and parents must discuss as much as possible the history they share. With that foundation they focus more completely on their own goals, constantly updated. Such grounded student motivation is the mission of the School Time Capsule Project.

After 14 years of improvements due to constant input, one of the 6 active Time Capsule Project middle schools have had the highest annual School Effectiveness Indices (SEI) score of all 33 Dallas ISD middle schools for three of the past 4 years!  Then on 10-19-17, when the most recent SEI data was released, it was also discovered that four of the five DISD middle schools with the highest SEI's this past year were Time Capsule Project Schools!  (The School Effectiveness Indices (SEI) is a DISD measurement of school performance that has been used 20+ years to measure performance in each DISD school every year.) 

It must be emphasized that there are only 6 active Time Capsule Project middle schools among the 33 DISD middle schools.  Only one of the 25 non-Time Capsule Project middle schools is among the top 5 in SEI scores for 2017. See page 2 of the 2016-17 Summary List at for the middle school listings which are repeated in the chart below. Notice below that the 'worst' SEI for an active Time Capsule Project school still places them better-than-average as 13th best among 33 middle schools. 
Dallas ISD Middle Schools in order by 2017 School Effectiveness Indices Scores

The Time Capsule Project is expanding this year to 14 more schools, including elementary schools for the first time. From third grade through 12th grade there will be two annual lessons:

1.   Students write a persuasive letter to their parents, and/or other relatives, asking for them to write a letter back. Students ask for two things in these letters: "What are your dreams for me?" and "Please write one story from your personal family history that you want me to pass on to my children someday." Over 80% of families respond and write potentially priceless letters.  Students then talk with anyone they asked to write a letter about what they have written. Students must be certain they understand the letter. Such conversations can be priceless, reinforcing family relationships.

2.   The resulting letters from lesson 1, or copies if the family wants to keep the originals, are brought back to Language Arts Class where each student prepares one self-addressed envelope to hold them. Then the student writes their second letter, this time to themselves about their own goals and dreams. All letters then go into that self-addressed envelope for each student. These envelopes go inside a 500-pound, or larger, School Time Capsule Vault in the school lobby. (Vaults can come from COSTCO for $500 to $800. For less than $100 the needed 10 shelves can be purchased and installed by volunteers.)

The previous year’s letters are always studied by students before the next letter-writing actions. In 8th and 12th grades all letters are written focusing on goals 10 years into the future. Students know they will be invited back for a 10-year reunion to pick up their envelopes, usually scheduled just before Career Day. At that reunion they will be asked to return and speak on Career Day with then current students about their recommendations for success, their profession, and life after 8th or 12th grade.

The fourth such 10-year reunion will happen this year at Quintanilla, the first Time Capsule Project School. It is still a 95% high-poverty school, but Dr. Hinojosa, DISD Superintendent, last summer named Quintanilla as the best middle school, the model middle school inside DISD.

The newest recommendation is, when possible, that a school secure the large 43-cubic-foot vault below, now on sale at Costco for $775. With such a large vault every student can be given a large 9"x11" envelope to use in storing their envelopes every year in the vault.  Each year students can read what they have written before as they plan that years letter.  Ultimately the school can leave all letters in the vault for the 10 years.  Fewer letters will be lost. The 10-year reunion will become more significant, especially with letters from parents and other relatives each year.

Quintanilla has had SEI scores among the top 20% of DISD middle schools every year for the past 4 years. Such progress will now happen much more rapidly in new Time Capsule Project Schools due to improvements outlined above. It will not take a decade!

One or more volunteers are needed to function as Time Capsule Masters at each school to help manage the Time Capsule Project.  They sort and help teachers return each year the letters from the previous year by each student.  Once the 10-year reunions begin, these volunteers help manage the reunions. This is exceptionally rewarding volunteer work. I have done it for over a decade, one of many volunteers with many wonderful stories to tell from the Project. We need more volunteers, at least one at each school.

Last year Browne had all students in all grades write letters as described above. Parents responded wonderfully! The photo below shows today’s Browne Time Capsule with the results:

Notice that the shelf for this year’s 8th grade class, 2018, as well as next year’s 8th grade class, 2019, are already filled with letters. These are the letters written last year by then 6th and 7th graders.  They will be returned to those students, and read, before this year’s letter writing. By the end of this year new letters will fill these shelves. The only difference will be that shelf “2018” will hold letters about dreams and plans for 2028. Those letters stay on that shelf until 2028.  

It is recommended 6th and 7th grade classes write letters at the beginning of the year to have the greatest effect on achievement that year. It is best 8th graders wait until the end of their 8th grade year to be able to reflect on more of their middle school experience as they write their letters planning 10-years into the future. Such future-focus by all students was one of many factors that helped Browne achieve the highest SEI scores of any of the 33 middle schools in DISD for 2016/17.  

The SEI for Browne went up 14.2 points in just one year!

A School Time Capsule Project only works in a school that is already a high functioning school under solid leadership. Once you have that, and add to it the grounding in family history and planning for the future reinforced by the Time Capsule Project, you have even greater achievement due to stronger student motivation. Positive student behaviors increase!  

School Time Capsule Vaults should be located in the highest student traffic area of a school, usually the lobby, to remind students daily of their parents’ letters, and their own plans.
For more details on this open-sourced, low budget, volunteer-based project, see, and the attached blog. Please share.

If you want to help another Dallas ISD school purchase a vault to start their Time Capsule Project, please send donations to: Time Capsule Project, c/o Lulac National Education Service Center, 345 S. Edgefield Ave., Dallas, Texas 75208. If you want to help a specific school, talk with that principal to see if they are willing to start at Time Capsule Project, and then specify which school you want your money used for.

You also may just buy a vault and bring it to the school, and help install the needed 10 shelves inside the vault.  This is a very flexible system!  Help your local schools!  Below is one large vault on sale until 12-17-17 for $775 from Costco, a large 770-pound 43 cu. ft. vault.

Any school can start a Time Capsule Project on their own with any modifications they may want.  We only ask that if you come up with what is considered a very successful improvement, that you share the details with us so more students can benefit.  The students are the only reason for this project. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Students Achievement seen as SEI History over 8 years

There are many different ways to look at the progress in the schools that are Time Capsule Project Schools actively having students write letters.  Here are a chart covering the middle schools in Dallas ISD with the Time Capsule Project schools indicated.  It documents the progress Time Capsule Project schools have enjoyed.