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Sonia Cichon's English class in Gilroy, Calif., includes a spectrum of students' the good kids never in trouble, as well as others who have gotten all the way to 12th grade without seriously cracking a book or even learning how to study, young people who have made bad choices and in some cases paid the consequences. Some have gone to prison, she says. Many of these at-risk students have failed the state's high school exit exam several times, and now they're in Cichon's prep course hoping something will click in their next attempt at the test.
On a day last September at this small-town high school in Central California's Santa Clara Valley, Cichon's students found a new book on their desks: SUCCESS for Teens. Her plan was to structure the English-language arts lessons around the book's life lessons.
Cichon had the students read from the first chapter. At the end of class, she asked them to jot down their thoughts. Too cool to act excited when they read the book, she says their notes revealed much more:
"This book was great. I always dreamed of helping the world and making a change. I think it is a good thing to help someone. The book explains a lot."
"The book we read today was good. It makes you think about many things. Also what little things you can do to change your life."
"I really think that this book is going to help me a lot. It's going to be also interesting to read because it talks about experiences of teens."
Cichon's students are among the 100,000 who received SUCCESS for Teens just in the first few weeks of distribution. Written from teens' perspectives, the book includes inspiring anecdotes illustrating the importance of clarifying goals, practicing the small efforts necessary for success and accepting responsibility for one's own destiny. The book offers lessons such as goal-setting, time management, pursuing dreams and self-motivation.
Distribution of SUCCESS for Teens is the inaugural initiative of the SUCCESS Foundation, founded by Stuart Johnson, owner of Video Plus L.P. and SUCCESS Media, which publishes SUCCESS magazine. The foundation's goal is to distribute 5 million copies of SUCCESS for Teens to youths ages 12-17 through schools and youth-oriented organizations with missions that align with the SUCCESS Foundation's.
"We want to touch the lives of 5 million teens," says Johnson, who attributes much of the success in his life to personal-development books he started reading when he was 15. "For every one of those students who decides to graduate from high school, go on to college, start a business or commit to striving to reach their greatest potential, there's the potential for changing lives, reversing negative trends and improving communities."
SUCCESS Foundation Executive Director John Fleming cites the country's spiraling dropout rate as evidence for the need of such efforts on behalf of youth. The dropout rate averages 30 percent across the country, but is as high as 50 percent in urban areas, he says.
"Very few people are successful without skills in goal-setting, dream-building, self-motivation and time management," Fleming says. "These things are so basic, but still they're not taught. The foundation is of the belief that what we're about to do can greatly enhance the potential of youth."
With the official foundation launch not until March in Dallas, the books distributed so far result from requests from teachers and other youth leaders who have heard about it through word-of- mouth. Johnson personally funds the foundation's administrative costs, but private donations are welcome to help with printing and distribution expenses.
Johnson says early response to the book exceeded his wildest expectations. "SUCCESS for Teens seems to have struck a chord," he says. "We wanted to reach people's hearts and minds, and it seems the book is doing that."
Paul J. Meyer, one of the world's best-selling authors of personal-development materials, received one of the first copies of the book. "SUCCESS for Teens has tremendous potential for impacting the lives of young people in a positive way," says Meyer, founder of the Success Motivation Institute. "This motivational book offers tips and real-life lessons in a way that young people can relate to—and it offers the kind of inspiring message that is so needed today."
Cichon heard about SUCCESS for Teens from relatives who attended a conference where a speaker was excited about the book and presented it. She immediately contacted the foundation for copies.
"What I'm seeing is that my students love reading the book—and these kids hate reading," she says. "But they love reading the stories and reflecting on them. These are kids who are essentially motivated to do better in their lives, but actually implementing these changes is a challenge for them," Cichon says.
Even Cichon's high-achieving students benefit from SUCCESS for Teens. "The book reinforces the positive choices they make," she says. "They need to hear this to remind themselves, 'this is why I'm in school, this is why I'm doing what I'm doing.' "
In addition to SUCCESS for Teens, the foundation is distributing a facilitator's guide for youth leaders, as well as a SUCCESS for Teens abridged audio book and downloadable CD and MP3.
SUCCESS for Teens was based on The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson, who praised the SUCCESS Foundation's efforts. "SUCCESS for Teens shows young people they can create any life they want. The book helps them understand that the little steps they take every day, compounded over time, do make a difference," he says. "I only wish someone had given me this book when I was a teen."
With the SUCCESS for Teens initiative only in its infancy, the SUCCESS Foundation now relies on individuals, teachers and youth organization leaders to come forward, request the books and get them into the hands of young people. "We know people are looking for ways to give back," Fleming says, "and we hope they will take advantage of this tremendous opportunity to make a difference in the lives of youth."
Teachers and leaders of youth organizations may receive free copies of SUCCESS for Teens; individuals may purchase the book for a nominal cost, which includes ground freight—$6 for a single book and $1 per book in a case of 50. For more information, visit SUCCESSFoundation.org.