Teacher Camilla Downs combined blogging, guest speakers and art projects with the SUCCESS for Teens program to develop a full-fledged course in life lessons for middle-schoolers in Reno, Nev. Instead of weaving the curriculum into other subject matter—another common and effective approach—Downs customized SUCCESS for Teens as a standalone class at High Desert Montessori School, where her children are students.
“I had the SUCCESS Foundation’s facilitator’s guide, a free download at the SUCCESS Foundation website, to go by,” says Downs, who previously had facilitated a group at a conference. “But doing this as a creative expressions class, I was kind of creating it as I went along”—while tapping her skills as an author, a blogger and landscape photographer.
The SUCCESS for Teens book, written in teenagers’ own words and full of lessons about goal-setting and other positive behaviors, served as the main curriculum. (Schools, churches and nonprofit youth-development organizations can request the hard-copy books free at SUCCESSFoundation.org; SUCCESS for Teens e-books and audio downloads are free to anyone on the website.) The program “pairs well with any type of writing for those people who like to express themselves in that way,” says Downs, who uploaded her students’ compositions at TheirView.WordPress.com. Some students were excited to write blog entries; others were more jazzed about art projects that included making a graphic of words frequently used in the book.
Because Downs had a 90-minute class daily for a full school quarter to cover the book, she tackled one of the eight chapters each week. For each of four days a week, she covered one of the four key points contained in every chapter. That left her a free day each week to amplify what the students were studying that week—either offering an activity or an inspirational video she found on the web.
Students reacted to course content on the class blog. Some talked about learning from guest speakers who drilled deeper into the book’s topics. The kids also enjoyed collecting artwork and videos from the Internet for “success photos of the day” assignments; the inspiring images reinforced the concepts of persevering and achieving.
Discussions helped students get a handle on their reactions to the book’s content. For instance, in Chapter 7, “You’re Always Learning,” Downs told the kids, “This has been a learning experience for all of us…. The more things you learn that you don’t like [by exploring a wide variety of topics], the closer you get to what you do like.”
The final class was a concert with the pop band CRVSH, Downs says. The band played a song with SUCCESS for Teens’ message, titled “No Givin’ Up.” Before the performance, “We talked about never giving up and their journey so far,” Downs says. Word got around that the band was coming, and the whole school attended—a fun and fitting end to the class.