Students enrolled in the Strategies for Success program have shared many success stories. Here are a just a few…
Lilly was a young lady who often found herself in trouble. Early in the school year, she was arrested for vandalizing a historically significant structure in the town. Although her identity had not been revealed publicly, the student grapevine made the information known.
Lilly was a student in my Strategies class that fall. I didn’t see her as a trouble maker because she had always been very respectful to me and the others around her. To be honest, none of the students in the class seemed to be in that category of school trouble maker. Something about the respectful positive atmosphere of the class made the best side of everyone emerge. I never realized that I had the students others had trouble with until I saw their names on the school In School Suspension list or until a staff person whisper, “You have him (or her) in class???”
But back to Lilly. I never let her know that I was aware of the arrest for vandalism. I did use the news of that event as a general topic during the semester helping teens to examine the issue of whether of not we have the right to damage something that is not ours. She was present for that discussion and listened attentively. The discussion was non judgmental and non threatening and my hope was that she and others would think before acting in such a way again.
Lilly’s year started on the wrong foot to say the least. But it improved tremendously. Prior to the state assessment tests in early May, Lilly was one of several students who volunteered to appear on stage with me as I ran an academic pep rally of sorts. Our goal was to help the students who were about to take the tests really see the benefit of taking them seriously and how true self esteem can be built by taking on challenges which this test would surely be.
Lilly was right up there with me. But rather than just being part of the group on stage, she asked if she could say a few words. I gave her the microphone. She told the audience of juniors (she was a sophomore at the time) that how they looked at the tests was up to them. In fact, how we see anything is up to us. “If you think school is rotten,” she said “it’s because you haven’t been looking for what’s good about it.” She also told them that she learned in Strategies class that her destiny was in her own hands and that she now had the tools to design her life the way she wanted. She credited the Strategies for Success curriculum with helping her change her life.
From Vandal to Student Leader in Less than 6 Months
How I Almost
Dropped out of School
Billy was a student with a big attendance problem. He was very personable and always sought to make up the work he missed but his absences were quite extensive. He was a student the very first semester of Strategies for Success and made a very strong impression on all who were in the class. He was someone who would go far in this world because he had a great attitude, was kind to all around him and made everyone glad he was around.
It was two years before I saw Billy again in the spring of his senior year. He was in the second strategies course by then and the class had chosen to mentor an 8th grade class as its charitable project for the semester. It was late May when the seniors were close to graduation. The members of the class were surrounded by over 60 eighth graders sitting on the edge of their seats as they listened to the high school students share the strategies they had learned.
Billy took a minute while he was there to tell them a story – a story I had not heard before. He said that prior to taking Strategies for Success, he had decided he was going to have to drop out of school. He’d never make it to graduation with all the absences he had. But taking the class taught him things he had not learned before. He learned among other things to set a goal for himself and he was one month away from seeing that goal come to pass – when he’d walk across the stage at graduation.
Billy wrote to me recently to as he put it ‘thank me for his life’. He is married, has two college degrees and is very successful in his profession.
My first sight of Sarah was when I heard her screaming obscenities across the cafeteria where I had a senior study hall. She was being denied access to the candy machines since she was not a senior or someone who had a study at that time. To say she seemed unpleasant was an understatement. I was grateful that I didn’t have her in math that year as she seemed quite challenging.
The next September was the beginning of the Strategies for Success program. I didn’t know Sarah’s name that day in the cafeteria but I did recognize her sitting in front of me that first day of school. I believe that every student deserves a chance to start class with a clean slate despite what might be known about them prior to that class. So I waited to get to know Sarah.
The year began and Sarah was one of the most polite young ladies in the class. She was never rude and contributed to the activities as they happened. But she truly began to shine when we took on our Thanksgiving project. Our goal that year was to raise the money to feed twenty families complete Thanksgiving dinners. She was the driving force behind the success of that project. She was there for every aspect of it including the grocery shopping, the basket assembly and the delivery.
And that wasn’t all. She took the second Strategies class the next year and led the class’ charitable project for the year. It was a seminar for the community which they named “Priceless Strategies”. She was the emcee for the event and was voted most outstanding Strategies II student by her fellow classmates.
There’s still more about Sarah. Although she was no longer in Strategies I class, she continued to help those classes with their holiday fundraising. She is a remarkable young lady who credits the Strategies program with changing her life.
Sarah and I are friends on Facebook. She is still running charitable events for a wide range of events. If there is someone who needs help, she is without a doubt the best person to have on your team.
A Charitable Wonder
A College Story
Not all the students who took Strategies were troubled. Some of the top students in the school also gave up some of their precious elective credits (not easy to do since this course had a basic rating which can easily reduce honor society and class rank averages). Jill was one of those students. She had been a student of mine when she took Algebra II Honors. She was hard working, very likeable and creative. I believe she took the class that first year more because she knew me and what it was like to be in my class. I’m not sure that she really believed she needed to learn anything in it.
Jill and others like her found techniques in this course that they had not ever heard of before either in school or out. They found some of them to be incredible simple – which they are – but they also realized that these easy sounding strategies truly work. Jill was the type of student who tested out the strategies and reported her findings back to me and the other students. She found that many of the techniques she learned helped her be even more successful in the challenging courses she was taking.
I heard from Jill recently and she wrote to me that she still uses the strategies she learned to this day as a college student. Her appreciation has not waned. In fact I’ve heard from many former students as they began their college careers. Most said that what they learned in my course prepared them more effectively for the transition to college life than their fellow freshmen.
Most educators know about learning styles. But how many of them truly incorporate them into all their lessons? And even more important, how many help students find out their own personal learning style so that they can not only achieve but thrive?
I had learned about learning styles many years ago on a professional development day. But one day’s training was not really enough to turn my rather mundane math text into something that would excite students to learn. My gut instincts helped me find ways to keep students interested and looking back now, I can see that I was on the right track. But I didn’t do it consciously or often enough.
One of the early lessons in this course is to help students find their best learning style. I had no idea when I first did this activity with a class that it would have the impact it did. Many students were suddenly clear about why they had difficulties in school, particularly the hands on learners. They were amazed and excited when they knew what their primary style was because they could use that knowledge to create strategies to learn both in and out of school.
David was another student who always claimed to be in trouble in school. I was surprised because he was very pleasant in class and always participated in the lesson at hand. One day he came in and proclaimed to everyone that he had found a way to stay out of trouble in his other classes. You see David was a hands on learner and would often fidget his way into trouble. He couldn’t sit still in class and often asked for a pass to the bathroom to take care of that urge to move around. Soon he was wandering the halls.
When he learned that he was primarily someone who learned by moving, he created a strategy for himself. He often wore the hooded sweatshirts with the center pocket. In those pockets, he placed the control panel from a broken game boy system. While in class, if he felt the need to fidget or move around, he just played with the game boy and he was able to focus on the lesson at hand. Finding out about his learning styles not only changed his life but the lives of the other students with whom he shared his discovery.
The Power of Knowing His Learning Style