Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Vision with Results (part one)

I recently had the opportunity to reconnect and visit with Bill Betzen, a retired middle school teacher in Dallas ISD and the founder of the School Time Capsule Project.  The purpose of the meeting was to get an updated status on the Project, an effort that is making a significant impact on students on 11 campuses in Dallas ISD.  The following is a background on the project and the motivation behind Bill’s efforts in founding it.  I will share the outcomes and outlook in a separate blog on April 6.

The School Time Capsule Project was founded in 2005.  The initial program focus was on helping 8th grade students craft their vision for the future with an eye toward revisiting that vision in10 years. This has evolved into an annual process with the previous year’s letters always returned to be re-written each year until the last year in a school: 5th, 8th or 12th grade.  That last year the letter is written planning 10-years into the future, the letter that stays in the vault for a decade until the class reunion.  The students were told that, at their 10-year reunion, they would be asked to speak with current 8th grade students about their recommendations for success and how the program has positively impacted their lives. This is currently happening with the third 10-year reunion for the 8th grade class of 2007 planned for May 2, 2017. 

While initially focused on one middle school campus, the Project has now spread to 11 schools.  Graduation rates for students who participate in the program have doubled and DISD's School Effectiveness Index (SEI) (click here for information about SEI) indicates that the two oldest Time Capsule Project schools now enjoy the highest average SEI scores of any of the 35 DISD middle schools. The other 5 middle schools with 3 or more years in the Project have enjoyed an average gain of 6.7 points on the SEI scale over the past 3 years.  The remaining 24 non-magnet schools with no Time Capsule Projects have lost 0.7 points during the same three years.

As the program evolved, and in response to a lack of parental engagement on some of the campuses, sponsors on each campus, typically campus leadership, sent letters to parents inviting them to participate in helping their children map their future.  The initial results of that effort were somewhat lackluster until a suggestion was made that the letters to the parents come from the students; parental engagement skyrocketed and families became much more involved with helping their child lay out a vision that would impact not only the child but likely the entire family as well.

For the students and parents in DISD who have been fortunate to participate in the School Time Capsule Project, there will be a long lasting impact on the lives of these students and their families.  Bill’s hope is that, within 5 years, this will be a normal set of annual writing projects in every one of the 227 DISD schools.

This is a program about a district and volunteers in the district who care enough to take the time to focus on helping students set a vision and then track individual progress toward achievement of that vision.  It is much more than simply an exercise for these students and parents ... it is a blueprint for success, one that Bill and others hope to see expand into other districts and communities.  

In my next blog (April 6), I will share the discussion I had with Bill about outcomes and successes of the program.  This truly is an exciting effort that has been embraced by the district as well as students, teachers and administrators on middle school campuses, an effort focused on making education a priority in our public schools.  

For further information about the School Time Capsule Project, please contact Bill at bbetzen@aol.com or visit the Project's web site, www.studentmotivation.org.

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