Friday, April 15, 2011

Success Stories: Levi

"How bad can it get? He is a good reader. He is a smart and creative kid. What is going on? Have we not done enough for him?" These are the thoughts my wife and I had when we learned how poorly Levi was doing in school.

He failed at least half of his classes in a traditional high school. He was falling through the cracks and getting left behind. He failed Social Studies, math repeatedly, he even failed gym! What's worse is that it seemed like nobody noticed or cared. Nevermind that he failed first semester math, he was just automatically enrolled in second semester math. I don't know about you, but it seems pretty obvious that if you can't succeed in the first sem math you also will be unable to succeed in the second sem math.

Everyone we talked to at the school said, "Oh yeah, great kid. Never causes any problems. Doesn't do his work though."

We pressed him, invited him over to do homework, called him to remind him to do homework.

So we pressed the school, demanded that teachers communicate with us, demanded conferences with school staff.


So we pressed his parents. "He is not showing you any reason to believe that he will be successful at this school. He is going to be 21 year old before he graduates at this pace, and you will still be supporting him financially if there is not a change immediately," we argued.

"O.K. I'll do my work," Levi protested, "Just don't make me switch schools."

"It's too late for that. At this point even if you passed every class from here on out you will graduate 2 years late. Moreover, if you keep going the way you are you will complete 4 years of high school in 8 years."

Finally the parents understood. They made him switch into a charter school. The school is strong on Spanish language and Latino culture. It is also especially strong on the arts. It is a perfect fit.

Kari and I had to back off a bit when he made the change. He'd had enough of us hounding him to live up to his potential, and we could tell. We didn't know if we had done enough for him, but we had done all we could do.

He didn't immediately like it at his new school, which worried us a bit. However, reading between the lines we liked what we were hearing. "I hate it there," he'd say. "I don't talk to anyone, I just do my work. That's it." His tone was resentful.

"Good. That is what you are supposed to do."

"Those kids are uncool," he'd say.

"So what? Maybe you need to succeed in school more than you need to have friends at school."

"I'm just going to work hard, catch up then go back to my other school."

We wanted to respond to that with outrage, but the time for outrage had passed. Whatever motivates him at this point is good. Even if it is getting out of his new school. Most likely, we reasoned, once he tastes success, he will love it.

Sure enough, he was chosen to create a mural on the back wall of the school. He became a leader. His talent shone through. The last time I talked to him this is what he said, "I'm taking a college course this summer. Two weeks I get to live on campus and study. Oh and I'm not 100% sure yet, but I think I'm going to graduate on time next year."

That is what we live for at DinoMights. Trust me, it is uncomfortable to be lying in bed at night wondering about if we've done enough. Truthfully, sometimes it doesn't matter. Not every story turns out like this one. But, we know that kids like Levi are worth the sleepless nights, and we joyfully celebrate when they have this kind of success.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Happy Endings

Last night was the last night for the 2010-2011 tutoring season. Many of the kids will now participate in our technology classes. In fact, we may have one of our biggest technology classes ever this year.

The party was tremendous fun. We had pizza, played board games, Mario Kart on the Wii, and the kids got fun prizes.

I went around and asked students to share something they have learned or remember from this year. Below are their quotes.

Eduardo, age 7, "I learned that hockey is cool."

Kevin, age 7, "I learned how to read in English, and I won a car." --When asked what he learned from his tutor.

Alex, age 6, "My favorite memory of hockey is doing the Superman." The "Superman" drill is when students extend their arms and slide on their bellies.

Larry, age 11, "I learned fractions." --When asked what he learned from his tutor.

Rafael, age 13, "Tweet, Tweet, Tweet." --When asked what he wanted to share on Twitter.

Francisco, age 12, "Getting my homework done on time." --When asked how his tutor helped him this year.

Edward, age 10, "I learned from my tutor that you always have to study hard and don't give up."

Sandy, age 16, "It was fabulous. I enjoyed coming every Tuesday and being with the kids." --On what it was like to be a tutor to a second grader this year.

Ericka, age 7, on her favorite book from tutoring, "Green Eggs and Ham in Spanish is Huevos Verdes con Jamon."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Success Stories: Frankie

Yesterday I got to spend some time with Frankie at tutoring.

Frankie is one of those kids you can look at and see that DinoMights is making a difference. He would make a great comic book character. He is a good athlete with natural leadership skills. His talents could be used for either good or evil. And, there is a battle over whether or not his skills will be employed by the dark side or the light (sounds a little like star wars, and also I recall something from the bible about light).

Anyway, a year ago Frankie's tutor couldn't keep tutoring him. So we placed him with Coach Pete as his new tutor. A few weeks later Frankie told Pete that he didn't want him to be his tutor any more. Well, of course the forces of good had to step in and say, "Kids don't get to decide who their tutors are going to be. Your job is to come here and learn. We actually put a lot of thought into your tutor, and think that Pete and you will be great friends." His immediate reaction was to hang his head and mope.

A year later all Frakie talks about is, "Coach Pete this," and "Coach Pete that." Pete is a police officer and occasionally rolls by Frakie's house in his squad car to say, "Hey, you keepin' out of trouble?" And he is keeping out of trouble!

Pete couldn't make it yesterday, so I substitute tutored Frankie. We did some word lists. He's a third grader and got 100% of the fourth grade words correct. Then he got most of the 5th grade words too. I think the forces of good and light are winning in Frankie's life!

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Red Van Retirement?

Since the end of the 2011 hockey season, I've had a chance to sit down with a very important member of the DinoMights family. He's been hauling kids around longer than any of us staff members, and really has been through it all with Hockey in the Hood. Our Red Van pauses to reflect on Dino Life, and his coming retirement.

Kids and hockey bags loaded into the Red Van

SH: Red, to say the least you have seen it all. Remind us how long you have been at it here.

RV: Well, I'm a 1996 Red Ford E350 15 Passenger Van. So I've been around since near the beginning of DinoMights. Why, some of the teenagers I drove to practices in the late nineties are in their late twenties now! Most of them have graduated high school and some of them are parents themselves!

SH: Wow, that is really something when you think about it that way. You are still chugging along though.

RV: That is right. In fact just this winter I transported DinoMights PeeWees, the District One Champions! It has been ten years since I chauffered the PeeWee Champs. I even drove them to the Hockey in the Hood Tournament all the way in Detroit, MI. You know, it never gets old.

SH: What never gets old?

RV: Well, what we are doing here at DinoMights never gets old. The smiles on the faces; stories the students tell in the back seat. Actually, inside me is probably one of the most important places for relationships at DinoMights. Also, I feel pretty important. Many parents can't regularly drive their daughters and sons to DinoMights. So without me many students wouldn't even be able to participate. They wouldn't build the relationships or create the stories.

SH: That is a great point. Without transportation we wouldn't be able to serve some of those same students you talked about who have grown up and graduated.

Now you have had a few recent surgeries. How is your health?

RV: Well, let me assure you I am still very safe. All my seat belts are in working order and I recently got new tires. But, the reality is I am getting older and I don't have a garage. At some point I'll have to train in a new van.

SH: Red, you have every driving record known to DinoMights: Most miles, Most Kids, Most hockey bags, Stinkiest hockey bags, etc. You are surely a first ballot hall of famer. Are you saying it is time to hang it up?

RV: Oh, right now the pieces are in place. As long as I can perform at a high level I have one goal, and that is to lead kids to Physical, Academic, Social and Spiritual Excellence. But 2011-2012 is likely to me my last hockey season. I'm not sure though.

SH: Truly you are the Brett Favre of the Dino Van world, and we hope that whoever follows in your footsteps, DinoMights will find a very capable replacement for you.

RV: I'm sure they will, and I'm sure that the community of DinoMights supporters will really get behind the effort! Thanks for giving me a chance to share.

SH: Thank you for your long and important service to DinoMights!

Red Van arriving home from camp