April 7th, 2010

Paul Vallas in New Orleans
Episode 11 - A New Approach to Alternative Schooling

How does one teach a 17-year-old who reads at a third or fourth grade level? “Dick and Jane” books are insulting, of course, even though they may be the right degree of difficulty. What approach would you try with teenagers who have gotten in trouble with the law?

When Paul Vallas took over the New Orleans Recovery School District in 2007, he inherited hundreds of these cases. His solution was a network of alternative schools run by a private contractor, but that did not go as planned. This year Vallas is trying something radically different, hoping to address the deep roots of students’ academic and behavioral problems. Find out what he’s trying…and whether it’s working.

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My name is Darryl C. Walls and I am the Founder/CEO of MINDS (Mental Intensity Naturally Determines Success) leadership consulting firm. I am the Curriculum Developer of the successful Access2Success (A2S) Program. I would like to help support Mr. Vallas’s vision and the changing the outlook and future of our childre. Please see http://www.theessextimes.com pages 6 & 9 and http://www.darrylwalls.com for more information. Thank you!

The New York Times is written at the 4th grade reading level, for goodness sakes, and there is a 100 year history of newspapers in classrooms documenting how rapidly students move up, beyond that skill when they find a reason to have it. That reason is, perhaps, what was and may still be lacking in New Orleans, just as it is in other corrupt cities of developing countries.

Alternative schooling is needed most often because time has been wasted in the past by unmotivated students. Teachers and parents had failed to motivate. We must better connect our children to why they must work in school.

In life the most valuable possession any person has is their story, their history, the reasons they will be remembered.

Children of poverty make up most of our urban school systems. They rarely raise above the struggle of meeting basic human needs long enough to even think about their history. To often it is not passed on to them. They do not know it. They have never thought about it. They have not written it. Nobody has recorded it for them. They worry about their parent’s jobs and the next pay check, the next weekend. This lack of a past often leads to a lack of goals for the future. Time for a personal history, time to think of goals 10 years in the future, is unheard of. You plan forward for a week, not a decade. Thus mistakes are made.

Dropouts happen in a world without goals, and too often isolated from the world outside their neighborhood.

Students do not realize they are creating a history for themselves, and someday for their children. They simply need to record it. They need to connect with a bigger picture of life.

The best parents and teachers work to help their children and students connect with their personal history and life goals. Such work by parents and teachers is common. Life goals are the topic of hundreds of thousands of personal conversations among teachers, parents, students, and classmates every day. We need more such conversations.

In 2005 our inner city middle schools started the School Archive Project to help life goals and history become more concrete with a place to store that history, and those goals, as they existed at one time in a child’s life. A 350-pound donated gun vault was bolted to the floor in the lobby of Quintanilla Middle School to be “re-purposed” as a time-capsule. It holds letters students write to themselves before going on to either Pinkston or Sunset high schools.

The first class to write letters in May of 2005 went on to be the Graduation Class of 2009. That graduation class was the largest graduation class in over a decade at both Sunset and Pinkston high schools where almost all of the original School Archive Class went on to high school.

The School Archive Project provides many more reasons for students, teachers, parents, or others, to talk about stories from the past, and plans for the future. Such grounding increases many positive student behaviors. Those include an increased potential to successfully graduate high school.

A knowledge of one’s own life story and plans for the future is certainly more valuable than gold, diamonds, or money. It is appropriately symbolic that these letters are placed in a secured vault, bolted to the school lobby floor, in a central location. A daily reminder is created as the students walk past the vault many times each day.

The Archive Project now includes the writing of initial letters as students enter middle school. They write the letters to themselves following the same outline as 8th graders, just planning forward for a shorter period of time. Also, a letter is sent home to invite parents to write a letter to be placed in the same envelope as their child’s about their hopes and dreams for their child. This is an introduction to the Archive Project for everyone and brings parents into the process.

Now, as students pass the vault in the lobby during their middle school years, they know they already have a letter inside the vault. They have begun to document their life story and their plans for the future.

At the end of 8th grade, that envelope is pulled out and opened by the students before they write their final letter for the vault. Once again parents are invited to write their own letter, this time for the next 10 years.

The 11th and 12th grade enrollments in the 32 high schools in Dallas ISD are, as of 2009/2010, up over 5% since 2005/2006. This makes for a total gain of 758 students in these upper grades. This is in spite of a total district enrollment decline of over 2% during the same time period.

Dallas ISD now has the highest 11th and 12th grade enrollment in DISD history! However, 55% of this gain, 417 of the 758 students that led to this record, are from only two of the 32 high schools in the district, the same two who receive almost all School Archive Project students: Pinkston and Sunset!

More details about the School Archive Project are at http://www.studentmotivation.org. We encourage others to start Archive Projects. Help us to improve this effort to refocus our students onto their own futures.

Give them something to read that interest thems while at the same time teaches them financial literacy, economic development, business creation and entrepreneurship.

Where is that done successfully? In my novel Billion Dollar Winner. Check out http://www.billiondollarwinner.blogspot.com

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