Students Creating Futures

Through Gale Holmlund’s participation in Landmark Education’s Team Management and Leadership Program, she designed a Game in the World where she has been able to create a new model for education in an “urban suburban” community, just outside the inner city of Chicago.

Can you imagine what the world would be like if there were high schools where the students were treated as equal members, as part of a team, involved in creating remarkable futures for themselves? Where, when a student is confronted and reacts, there is no repercussion, no disciplinary action, no principals called? Instead, the student is allowed to leave, think about what happened, and return to the classroom ready once again to participate on the team.

“Typically,” says Gale, “the apathy of the students is so enormous they don’t do their homework. In this structure, more work is being handed in. The students are realizing the connection between their grades and their futures, and are engaging in their classes like they matter.”

For achieving her game’s goals, she set up a team, which involves two school administrators, the students, and Gale herself. They engage in conversations to discover what they can do, and how she can assist them, to create a future for themselves. Gale sees her 125 students in five classes, five days a week. “My school is Chicago suburban… Most of the students come from gang-type neighborhoods. Members of their families have been lost to gang violence. These are kids of parents who worked their butts off to get the families out of the inner cities.”

The kids have created their own supportive groups, bugging each other to do their homework—without outside encouragement. It is a game where everyone wins—and “winning” is getting an “A”, “B” or “C” grade. Gale points out, “This is fairly radical. They’ve been aiming for mediocrity their whole lives.”

As part of the game, they created a field trip to a junior college, overcoming objections along the way, “By writing persuasive essays, asking the administrators to re-consider, as my first request was flatly refused,” Gale explains. The administration not only said yes, they actually found an additional teacher to go on the trip. “For the students, college was something not attainable. As a result of the field trip, the kids were able to get a sense that maybe they could do it. It created a possibility for the kids that had not been there before.”

Things do not always come easily. Gale remembers, “I wanted more literacy materials; I wanted 30 copies of Newsweek magazine. The cost is $750 for a six month subscription, and there was/is no money. I sent a well written e-mail to friends and families outside of the school district, and raised $900.” She put herself in action and each of the students wrote a thank you letter to the people who contributed.

“Now, all the students take an issue of Newsweek home, one night a week, for one night. We rotate all the magazines through all 125 kids each week. It’s the real language of the real adult world. These are kids whose sense of geography or government is non-existent. They do various assignments on the material in the magazine. The important thing is, they read more of the magazine.” Gale has a commitment that her students have their skills ready for college, and this project is part of having that happen. Nobody is complaining about the Newsweek assignments; the students are intrigued by what is in the magazine each week.

Gale started this team-based project in August and has continued it for two quarters of the TMLP Program. The impact on the kids is evident; “They demanded weekly grade sheets. They said what they wanted and I gave them what they wanted: Team. Slowly, the kids are getting the idea of being partners.”

“Every moment they see my commitment and see I am invested in their success, they stay invested in their own success; they form the habits to keep them committed to their own success.” With the foundation laid, with partnership developing, with their experiences at the college, the students are making remarkable futures their reality.

Written by Shash Broxson. Edited by Valri Castleman.

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