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Students Write Their Future

By Bill Betzen, middle school computer applications teacher, Dallas, Texas

All of our students know that by the end of 8th grade, they will write letters to themselves documenting their lives and their plans for the future and they will place that letter in the Achievement & Goals Archive -- a 350-pound vault, bolted to the floor in the lobby of our Dallas inner-city middle school.

After they've written the letters, students pose for a photo with their Language Arts class in front of the vault, holding the self-addressed envelope with their letter sealed inside. Then, they each place their letter on the shelf for their class, one of ten shelves inside the vault.

Each student gets a copy of the class photo, with a description of the Archive Project on the back and the date by which they'll receive details for their ten-year class reunion. At that reunion, they will retrieve their letter from the vault.

Students know they will also be invited at their reunion to speak with the then-current 8th grade class. They'll give these students their recommendations for success and they'll answer questions such as: "Would you do anything differently if you were thirteen again?"

When we started this archive activity three years ago, we wanted to help students focus on their own futures, to have goals to work toward. We've found that this focus is now helping our students take their studies more seriously. And more of them are planning to complete high school and continue their studies after high school. The Archive Project and reunion plans seem to give students more of a sense of belonging. That alone lessens the attraction of gangs, whose members seldom graduate from school.

Starting a Middle School Archive Project is simple. All it takes is a supportive middle school principal and one language arts and/or history teacher interested in running the project. It is a history-writing project that students love. After all, it's their own history! It is very easy to get the hardware for the Archive Project donated by your local hardware store. This is a project students will remember.