One school has purchased copies of my book to be used in their AVID program this year. AVID is a national college readiness program that is designed to prepare kids for a post high school education, college, trade schools and the like. It was created especially for kids who may have cultural backgrounds that make it difficult for them to identify with the academic work that is essential to their future. (Paraphrased from an AVID manual) The African American principal of the school quickly picked up on my idea that stories of ordinary people will provide examples, and maybe even role models, for all kids who are seeking their futures. As an African American principal he understands the problem much better than me, especially in that community. But it isn’t limited to African americans either. He understood the power of stories of real people and how they will resonate with kids more so than the stories of the rich and famous that tend to be out of reach for most of us. This is not to motivate kids to be average; it is to motivate kids to be achievers and when they become achievers the sky is the limit!
In the process of marketing I have talked with several civic and non-profit leaders around town. Generation Next is an organization headed by RT Rybak, former mayor of Minneapolis. They have a goal of improving the graduation rate in Minneapolis schools from around the 75% level to 100%. I am a volunteer with that organization and have met many interesting people at meetings. I was highly encouraged by one of Rybak’s senior staff who picked up on my idea very quickly. He even went so far as to suggest that I don’t let my volunteer work with Generation Next get in my way of promoting my idea and book to schools. Everyone I have talked with believes the idea is good and has given me good ideas to make it happen. That is very encouraging to me!
Achieve Minneapolis, where I volunteer as a mentor, is a member of Generation Next that focuses on encouraging kids to complete high school and enroll in some kind of post high school education program. I agree that education can be the key to getting out of poverty or improving one’s options of getting meaningful, profitable work someday. But achievement only in education doesn’t go far enough in my opinion. The gap I have seen is the “why” part of it for the students. Why should I go to school? Most of the people in my neighborhood and family dropped out. Why should I try to make something out of myself? My friends and neighbors say the system is rigged and futile for most people. Why should I try to do something with my life and for others? No one ever did anything for me. It is my belief that the stories of people in my book can fill the gap of some of the “why” question. They can read about people like them who have “made it”. And the people in the book are a diverse group of people with mostly humble beginnings that students can relate with.
So why am I making this effort? I have several reasons. I am a compulsive problem solver and I see this situation as a problem. I see public policy and spending more and more on education not meeting the challenge, recognizing that those efforts are good and well meaning. I believe that if more people are productive that the world will be a better place to live in as more people will be happy. I believe teachers need help, they can’t do it all alone. I believe families would be the solution, but some of these kids don’t have strong families or family role models. Rather than complain or ignore this problem, I hope I can make a difference!