Monday, November 28, 2011

Not a Person I Admire...More Like People I Admire

Mondays are about picking out a person I admire and telling you why. Today, I've decided not to focus on a particular person or a couple of people I know. Rather, I'd like to tell you why I'm such a HUGE fan of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

A few years ago, while toiling away as a principal in a junior high school, I was actively and openly looking for ways to bring more positive role models into the lives of many of the students in my building. I had formed a partnership with our local Boys and Girls Club (another perfectly wonderful and worthy organization) and we were offering programming in the building after school for students who wanted to participate.

Still, I felt that there must be more I could do to help so many of these kids. So, I made a call to the local Big Brothers Big Sisters agency director and asked her if we could meet. We did and, at the time, it was difficult to figure out what a partnership would look like between the school and the organization. Most of the kids they served were elementary school kids, they had a very limited budget, and it just didn't seem like something that could happen right now. We left the meeting agreeing that I could send referrals to the organization and they would screen the kids and try to match them up with a Big.

Fast-forward a few years and I was asked to sit on a board for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri. The home office is based in St. Louis and they have a satellite office here in our town. BBBSEMO wanted to take a look at the impact of the Big/Little relationship in regard to student success in the areas of attendance, behavior and academic achievement as measured by district and state assessments. So, we met at a local eatery one evening with a few elementary principals, myself, the Alternative School Director, the Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent, and a few folks from the local University.

We were told from the onset that they were curious on two fronts:

1. Does having a strong Big/Little relationship have an impact on a student's success in school?

2. Is there a way the Bigs could help the students find more success in school?

We met quarterly and spent much of the time in those first meetings deciding what to measure, how to measure it and what the thresholds were for taking measurements. The thing that CONTINUOUSLY impressed me was the agency's constant focus on finding new ways of helping the kids they serve. They didn't just want "ideas" or "plans" or "I think this would work". They took each idea, question and comment seriously and they scrutinized it. We were asked "What would that look like?", "How would that help?", "Why is this the threshhold and not another ________?", "How would we measure that?", "What are the biggest indicators of success and failure in students?", "How could a Big have a more positive impact or greater influence on this without compromising the relationship?" etc. The questions were deep and probing. Each answer to each question was probed deeper and deeper until there was a real understanding of the concept or idea or metric or whatever.

I've always heard that "you know quality when you see it". This was quality. This was the good stuff. These were the conversations that my teachers should be having with each other and with me. These were the conversations the teachers and I should have been having with the kids we taught.

After several years of collecting data based on the metrics we agreed upon, we began to see trends and correlations between the data. Successful, strong matches DID make a difference in the life of the Little! There was hard, quantifiable data that indicated that the stronger the relationship between the Big and Little, the more likely that child was to do well in school in all areas. The data also showed that Bigs who were asked to speak positively about school, inquire about the Little's day or week or month at school, or who simply asked their Little to give them a call after a big test or project had Littles who missed fewer days of school, had better behavior than previously and increased their academic scores in both district and state assessment measures.

It sounds so simple. And, in many ways, it really is simple. Sometimes we take a really complex problem like student success and we assume that it must require a really complex answer. The truth is, some of the most difficult problems are solved with the simplest solutions. In this case, having a caring adult role model who takes an active interest in your education, speaks positively of education and checks in on your progress can make a significant difference in the school life of a child.

I once wrote an email to a friend decrying the hopelessness of many of the students I encountered. I wasn't calling them hopeless. Rather, they saw no HOPE. It's hard to be motivated about anything when you have no hope. Every child deserves to have some hope. Many in this area do not. I've seen it and I've heard it from their mouths. They want to believe that someone really cares about them, but they have no solid proof.

BBBSEMO instills HOPE in the lives of the children it serves. They have hard data that proves that what they do makes a difference in the lives of children.

Now, are you wondering what YOU can do to help them help kids? Give the local agency a call and simply ask, "What can I do to help?". Maybe it's a donation of money or time, maybe you could become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Either way, you win and some child wins.

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