Paying Attention: the “Inside Selfie”

We talked about paying attention to the inside–that each Dreamline and Value flag helps focus our own attention on the inside–what we value, what we dream, what we plan. And we talked about how the inside is more important than the outside–in friendship, in family, in everything we do with other people.

“Zip!” “Zap! “Zop!!”

On Monday of the last full week of  the school year, I stood before 2nd graders at the Lab Charter School at 59th and Woodbine in West Philadelphia and we played Zip, Zap, Zop. Paying attention to which way to point–right for Zip, left for Zap–was a challenge but it got better as we went along.

Because of the support of those who support programs that build student motivation at the Queen’s Jubilee Education Fund of The Philadelphia Foundation, I was able to not only work with students to help them articulate their values and dreams, but also to do follow up analysis and study of the patterns of those elements across grades, gender, and other factors, in order to guide the school toward resources that meet the motivational needs of their students.

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Through the week on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I worked with students and co-taught with their teachers to help them think about what a value is, choose some that matter, and make a Value Flag.

Then I asked them to think about the world we live in, the dreams we have of how it could be, and the ways we can move toward those dreams. At least with 5th graders. Kindergarteners created an acrostic out of the word “DREAM” with words close to the heart.

And the theme that emerged from these discussions, from the pressure of getting all of this done by Friday for “the big reveal” was paying attention.

Paying attention to THEM.

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Lab Charter serves a population in West Philadelphia that does not always get a lot of attention, though their teachers are devoted, their principals are tireless and their group leadership from CEO Stacey Cruise has been visionary. The school sits between areas of affluence and economic need. The facility is not ideal, according to their principal and teachers, but they make do. Their revenue per student is just over half of the state average, and all of their students qualify for school lunch without fee.

What we talked about a lot that week was how it matters what we pay attention to.

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Just the week before we started work at Lab, as it is known, I spoke with a representative of Capital One bank which has a bank cafe in my neighborhood. Kevin Moore affirmed that values and community are what Capital One cares about. He aksed us to invite students from Lab to a special event in July called Field of Dreams at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center to meet and interact with players from Philadelphia Soul, the Arena Football team of Philadelphia–AND to display the Lab Dreamline and Value Flags as part of an installation of our Unlock The Dream game to be included as part of the event activities.

So I could tell the students that Capital One and the many people attending their event — would be paying attention to what THEY had to say on their flags.

But there was more about paying attention.

We talked about paying attention to the inside–that each Dreamline and Value flag helps focus our own attention on the inside–what we value, what we dream, what we plan. And we talked about how the inside is more important than the outside–in friendship, in family, in everything we do with other people.

And finally, that each flag is, in modern terms, a “selfie” of the INSIDE–a snapshot of one child’s heart and values at one moment to share with the community and with the world.

Look and listen to these “inside selfies.”

From a Kindergartener

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values: LOVE, RESPECT

From a 2nd Grader

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values: FAITH, FORGIVENESS, FAMILY

From  one 5th Grader:

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values: TRUST, LOYALY, EMPATHY

From  another 5th Grader:

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values: LOGIC, FRIENDSHIP, FAMILY

In our celebration Friday, we heard their voices as you can her– and all of them on our site. Because of the tireless work of the teachers, each and every one of these flags was put up on Dreamline with a voice recording of the student–no mean feat on the last week of school. But the teachers were paying attention.

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invitation to the celebration

We gathered on the sunlit grass on their last Friday of school and teacher-selected students read their Dreamline flags in front of a display with each and every flag blowing in the breeze. Parents joined along with school administration. We could hear how aware they are of the hard realities of their world–even at age 8–and that they are determined to make things better.

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And that’s news–that’s something to pay attention to–that each of us needs to hear.


For more information on the Laboratory Charter Schools, visit  http://thelaboratorycharterschool.com

Look for future blog posts for more information on the specifics of this grant and the analytic work under way based on student-created Dreamline and Value Flags.

May 5: The Real Story

… and this is what our world needs– for all of us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, connecting one heart to another, and acting to make our dreams take shape.

Last week, at The National Constitution Center on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, USA, more than 1,000 flags hung across the 90 foot floor to ceiling windows, around the 200 foot balcony rail, and across the pipe framework set up just for them and for the dreams they carried.

Last week hundreds of students, teachers, mothers, fathers, principals, administrators, and friends gathered to celebrate those dreams and what they stand for.

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Last week, volunteers arrived very early to set up tables, put out markers, organize games, create group art, connect the technology, staff the registration desk, and do whatever it took to make this happen for everyone from 11:00 am EST to 1:00 pm.

And then it all came down. Flags packed, some left as Travel Flags for the coming year, tables cleared, flag display nets down, hooks and suction cups removed, bags loaded out, and volunteers off to a well deserved lunch.

But the real story I learned started way way before all that.

To me, the real story started in Dallas, Texas with Candice Lindsay, an art teacher who found out about this program based in Philadelphia for kids sharing dreams.

Her school is located in central Dallas and serves children from 4 to 11 years old. Most of them walk to school. Most of them speak Spanish as well as English. Almost all of them qualify for a free lunch at school, an important part of their daily nutrition. Their principal is Alberto Herrera, and he understands this group. I met him when we all went out to dinner the Friday before the “big event” on Saturday.

For me, meeting Alberto Herrera, the principal, meeting Mike Daleo the PE teacher, and once again meeting Candice Lindsay, the art teacher and dream booster, as well as Shannon Kline the first grade teacher and Social and Emotional Learning Campus Champion–was the big event. For me, learning their story was more powerful than a thousand thousand flags of dreams.

Mike, Candice, Shannon, and Alberto ( left to right) at Eakins Oval in Philadelphia

A few weeks before I had had the privilege of standing before the whole school and community guests at the culminating program of Ecole Nouvelle Zorange in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I told the students that anybody can have a dream, but it takes hard work to make it real.

These educators from Dallas and their community were the example to me of the hard work to make it real.

When I met with them on Friday, I found out how they had started working last September with the Parent and School committee to show their students, each one of them, that their dreams matter.

That group organized school movie night –every week. For $3 you could come to the school on a Friday evening, bring a pillow, sit on the floor of the gym, pay a little more for some popcorn, and watch a family friendly movie projected on the wall. You could watch the same movie at home, but it wouldn’t be the same.

And so they started raising money to send each one of their 650 flags with dreams and 4 of their teachers to represent them in Philadelphia. That’s a lot of $3 contributions.

3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 . . .

In about January, Candice Lindsay started making hand stamped Dream Bracelets resembling like this.

For each one, often while the child watched, she would custom stamp the letters D R E A M into the metal of a washer connected to a colorful band that the student would wear. And she sold each for $5. She made about 500 of them, each by request. That’s 2,500 hand stamped letters in metal. She said her arm got tired sometimes.

Between these two efforts, and the effort of the school to have each and every one of their students create a flag for their dreams, the vision–the dream of bringing those dreams to Philadelphia, to make them and the community of Ansom Jones part of something bigger than themselves–started to take shape.

And at about 9 am on Saturday, May 5th, the team of four dedicated educators started the work of installing those dreams for all to see across the floor to ceiling window 90 feet long that faced the mall ending with the building where the USA started, Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

They filled that window, all 90 feet of it, so that, looking out to Independence Mall, you saw a wall of dreams that knew no bounds, that travelled from Texas to Philadelphia to shout out that this is what independence is all about, this is what the USA is about at its best, and this is what our world needs– for all of us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, connecting one heart to another, and acting to make our dreams take shape.

That’s a story I won’t forget and will keep on telling and building as you join me in the effort.

How fitting for Cinco de Mayo and Independence Hall, and every dreamer who aligns their values to their actions anywhere in the world.

Thank you, Ansom Jones Elementary!

What’s Behind a Dream?

While our dreams in life will change as we grow and our circumstances shift, when we align our evolving dreams to our values, they provide the ballast, the permanence, that’s critical for a steady course–now and in the future.

“The values and the dreams are in an alignment for a better tomorrow.”

–Gregory Mevs

On Friday I got my first tour of the school. I have been a teacher for 30 years, and I have an immediate sense when walking into a school if there’s respect and care. That was in the air at Ecole Nouvelle Zorange, and I could sense it the second I set foot out of the car with Christelle who brought me there.

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See on Google Maps

This school, situated on the edge of Cité Soleil, arguably one of the largest urban settlements of extreme poverty anywhere, serves 570 students from ages 5 to 17, and was established by the Prodev Foundation and the vision of its founder Maryse Pénette-Kedar. She formed the school in the wake of the devastating earthquake of 2010 to help rebuild Haiti by focusing on help that will last–education.

Christelle and I sat with the teachers from the 5th and 9th grades with whom we’d be working next week. The Talking Dream Line did its work just as it had in Jacmel, and with Christelle’s extremely able help, we collaborated on a plan for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the next week.

And on Monday we began–first with the 5th graders. We started with the present. Between my fractured French and Christelle’s ability to explain not just what I wanted to say but what I ought to say, we had a great time with a game I call Zip, Zap, Zop and they call Biff. Baff, Buff. If you hesitate and “loose” you had to tell me something you like–so we could get to know each other.

Biff, Baff, Buff, I explained, is about paying attention to right now. Our Dreamline program is about focusing on now AND on the future–what we dream of.

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5th Graders loved the talking Dreamline.

They got that the flags were the same size because we’re all equal. They got that they’re connected to a line because we need each other. And they got that kids everywhere, not just Haiti, not just Philadelphia, have dreams for the future. And that was it — until the next day.

Fast forward to the 9th graders, all 35 of them, and their teacher M. Donasson who, before I arrived, had already started working with the students. After a quick intro and look at a map showing places in the world where students have already declared and shared dreams on fabric, we moved right into what’s behind our dreams–values.

M. Donnasson had already worked with the group to brainstorm this list of values.

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9th graders have already been studying English for more than 2 years, so I added a language component by translating the French words into English.

Then Mr. Donasson gave a simple direction: “Choose three.” Choose three values from this list that mean a lot to you, that are values you live by, or want to live by. Write them on a flag. Decorate it. Hold it up.

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I have worked with students in the process of sharing dreams continuously since 2003, and my work had extended to more than 120,000 students across 36 countries, including 42 states of the USA. But I had never tried this.

It was, in fact, the brainchild of a non-teacher, Gregory Mevs, who is Co-Chair of the Haitian West Indies Group and General Honorary Consul to Haiti. He helped us come to Haiti, and it was he who suggested that we might try Value Flags as an addition to our program. He’s very interested in values and the power that comes from action aligned to those values.

It worked. The Value Flags were an easy but powerful first step in thinking about a dream–a VALUE BACKED dream!

When we completed the project, the Value Flags were stapled, literally back to back, with the Dreamline flags to remind the students and everyone who saw it that dreams backed by values create a lasting and powerful force. And when we align them around the world, a force that can cause cause change as we perhaps have never seen.

In the words of Gregory Mevs, “The values and the dreams are in an alignment for a better tomorrow.”

As we move through life, our dreams can and should change, but our values remain more constant. By giving students the tangible experience of creating a Value Backed Dream, we give them a tool for learning an important lesson. While our dreams in life will change as we grow and our circumstances shift, when we align our evolving dreams to our values, they provide the ballast, the permanence, that’s critical for a steady course–now and in the future.

So stepping up to dreams through values was pedagogically sound–verified by both 5th and 9th graders in Haiti–and a brand new development of our program, an articulation of what has always been there behind every flag declaring a dream–the values that shine through aspiration and action.

Here’s what 5th and 9th graders at Ecole Nouvelle Zorange value–what I’d call a value portrait of the classes. The larger the word, the more students chose it for the value behind their dream.

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My Barrier Becomes a Bridge

This is the second of a series of blog posts from my recent work in Haiti. The real date of this posting is April 27, but I am backdating it to April 5 when it was written and experienced. –Jeffrey Harlan


The Language Barrier had become a Language Bridge. Because I couldn’t explain the program myself, Pepe explained it as he understood it and as he appreciated it, so it meant more to everyone–him, Ketchma, her family, and Sam. My only contribution was to push a button on my phone that brought the heartfelt words of students in the USA across the water and over the language barrier to touch the hearts of those hearing them in THEIR first language, not mine. What an amazing bridge that was.

Most Americans speak one language, English. Me included. As Michael Smolens, my close ally and founder of the Dotsub translation platform likes to remind people, only 6% of the world’s population speaks English as a first language. 94% do NOT speak English as a first language. True fact.

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This fact hit me pretty quickly when I woke this morning and didn’t know where or how to get breakfast or how to ask. My hostess, Mme. Maryse, arranged for me to stay in the guest room at the house of a friend of hers, so that’s where I am. The person who owns the house is away, so it’s just me and people who work for her. They speak French and Haitian Creole. I don’t.

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It is very comfortable.

Back in the USA I know, as a city dweller, that it’s not smart to just wander in a city if you don’t know where you are or where you are going. So I wasn’t going to just wander around on my first morning and was contemplating eating peanuts for breakfast when someone kindly appeared with coffee and breakfast for me on a tray. Just like that.

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I had that sudden realization that being unable to communicate really heightens my capacity to receive the kindness of strangers with gratitude. More than I could imagine it turned out.

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Before I came to Haiti, I had the good fortune to be connected to an organization called PAZAPA. It means “step-by-step” in Creole. They are an NGO that has worked in Haiti for the past 30 years to support students living with disabilities and their families in and around the coastal city of Jacmel. Jacmel is about a two and a half hour drive south of Port-au-Prince. As it says on their website, it has been a widespread practice to call persons with disabilities “cocobai” which means “worthless” in Creole. PAZAPA, whose staff is 80% Haitian, has been working to reverse that culture in specific communities for 30 years. From what I saw today, they are doing it powerfully.

When I was invited to go with Pierre Paul Exilus, known as Pepe, on a PAZAPA village visit on my first day in Haiti, I jumped at the chance. We hope our future Dreamline work will take us into the villages where not only students, but entire communities, will participate in our growing Dreamline and Value Flags program. (More on that in another post.) This was a great chance to form a connection.

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When I got a WhatsApp text from Pepe this morning, asking where I was in Jacmel, I had to tell him I was in Port-au-Prince. Since Pepe spoke to someone last night who knew where I was, I thought he knew where I was. Nope. Barrier.

But after WhatsApp calls to the US, then back to Port-Au-Prince, and with support from one of our sponsoring organizations, the PRODEV Foundation, I found myself in a van driven by Tiga, going through the seemingly endless sprawl of Port-au-Prince and then zig zagging back and forth and back and forth up the seemingly endless ascent of the mountains, flanked by farms, mangos for sale (there are something like 120 varieties of mangoes grown in Haiti I learned) and much more. At last we crested the range and could see the ocean in the distance. There was Jacmel. Tiga’s driving was amazing.

Back down at sea level, we entered the bustling streets of Jacmel and found the street we got as a destination. But where was the school? My dauntless driver Tiga called the school and then got a motorbike taxi to lead us there. That’s what they said to do. It worked.

School had been closed that day because of the recent heavy rains (they make some roads impassable). I got to see the setting, though, and learn about the programs they do year round which serve more than 200 families with children living with disabilities in the morning programming and village outreach, and an entirely different group who are all hearing impaired in the afternoon. Annie Lessage, who could speak my first (and only) language, was my guide. I got to speak with her and Jean Joseph Forgeas, the Site Administrator, about my program, share its written description in French, and then play some flags.

What do I mean by “play” some flags? Well, back in Philadelphia, the very kind parent of one of my former students created audio translations of ten Dreamline Flags before I left. I had five of those flags on a line with me, their five audio files on my phone, and a bluetooth speaker. So I could hang the flags, play them one at a time, and they cut through the language barrier like a hot knife through butter.

Haitian Creole


English

While all of this was happening, Pepe arrived after his day’s visits to the surrounding villages, so he took it in as well. And then he said we should get in the van and go. He wanted me to meet the PAZAPA village supervisor in Cayes-Jacmel and one specific family–the family of Ketchma, a girl with disabilities who, he said, was close to his heart.

Tiga was game and off we went, talking flags in my backpack, and headed out of Jacmel. The van slowed considerably when we drove off the main road onto a rugged dirt one, and then even more when we turned off onto another road. I’d say we were going maybe three miles an hour to manage the ruts.

But go we did, and we picked up Sam, in his fluorescent yellow PAZAPA shirt. Sam Jules is a person living with disabilities who is also the PAZAPA village supervisor. He lives in Cayes-Jacmel and is training as a runner with the dream of representing Haiti in the Paralympics one day. When we arrived at the home of Ketchma, there was some food cooking on a small outdoor fire, or so it seemed to me, and an older woman and some younger ones greeted us. Also a young man. Someone went to get Ketchma since she was’t there at the moment.

Ketchma arrived, smiled at Pepe, and learned from him why we were there. I saw a child just the age of the students I had been teaching in the USA only a few weeks before. I was teaching in an all girls school, and I had the teacher’s sense that she was a girl with an active, inquiring mind. And I think I was right.

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Pepe, Sam, and Ketchma

Ketchma was offered a chair, along with me, and after I had tied my flag line to two posts, Pepe asked me to play the first one. He explained to Ketchma and her family what our program was, and I could see that when I played the words, many of which were about inclusivity, about respecting and accepting people universally, they hit home. And Pepe became the teacher. He asked Ketchma questions about what the poems meant. When she didn’t know or didn’t quite know, he didn’t tell her the answer. He asked me to play the recording again and then repeated the question. Lessons learned.

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One of the Talking Flags

Haitian Creole


English

When we left, it was with a great feeling. On the way back to the office, Pepe told me he’d like to share our program with families in other villages and to share it with adult students to whom he teaches Sign Language. Our program had become his program. And now I know why.

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The Language Barrier had become a Language Bridge. Because I couldn’t explain the program myself, Pepe explained it as he understood it and as he appreciated it, so it meant more to everyone–him, Ketchma, her family, and Sam. My only contribution was to push a button on my phone that brought the heartfelt words of students in the USA across the water and over the language barrier to touch the hearts of those hearing them in THEIR first language, not mine. What an amazing bridge that was.

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As we drove back across the mountains at sunset, I could see the physical beauty of this extraordinary place, and it only highlighted the inward beauty I had been privileged to witness.

It was 9:00 when we got back. I was starved.