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Today’s seventh and eighth graders speak with astonishment of the times when their parents and grandparents were young, people left their cars and homes unlocked and windows opened. They marvel over the fact that youngsters, then, had the freedom to roam for miles on bicycles or on foot and would travel by bus downtown, alone.
Those of us who grew up in that era are equally incredulous to learn that so many of today’s children are apprehensive and even fearful in their homes, neighborhoods, schools and shopping malls and that many schools have police patrols, search dogs and metal detectors. Sadly, we know that most parents are fearful of permitting their children to play unsupervised in front of their residences!
The candidness of the students from the greater Houston area, who accepted the Texas Do the Write Thing Challenge, is both startling and informative.
We learned much from our student writers. They condemned the various entertainment industries, media and the Internet for glamorizing sociopathic behavior and debasing standards of decency. In schools and communities, gangs intimidate and assault. Cliques taunt, bully and shun youngsters who are not “cool”. Young victims describe the sting of rejection, how both physical injuries and harsh words scar their psyche. The stories of parental indifference, neglect, mistreatment and appallingly dysfunctional families are wrenching. Many feel adrift in life and cite intoxicant usage, truancy, classroom disruption, academic failure and sexual activity as results of this societal estrangement.
The most compelling message the youthful writers deliver is the need for caring supervision and acceptance. They hunger for close-knit families, for parents or other adults who will listen to them, give them advice, encouragement and who will set boundaries. They want a safe haven, whether it is at home or in after-school activity centers. These sentiments were expressed by children, across all demographic spectrums.
The Challenge stresses personal responsibility and asks for commitments from the children to actively help construct a better civil society. The participating youngsters feel valued because the Challenge seeks their thoughtful opinions and involves them in the quest for solutions. Positive recognition is a key component of the program. Every child who wrote received a Certificate of Appreciation and many teachers informed us of how proud the students were of their efforts and how excited they were to receive the certificates. Jessica Flowers, an 8th grade Language Arts Teacher wrote, “It was wonderful that students who sometimes hate writing just really got into this project. It (the certificate) is the only recognition many of them will receive in their school years and I thank you for giving them this opportunity.”
The Challenge is not merely a writing competition or research resource; it is a synergistic program. School districts and individual schools have reported that the Challenge has fostered positive classroom environments and they are integrating it into their academic curriculum and coordinating it with both health and character building activities. The Challenge has lead schools to implement or supplement programs that promote safety, civility, wise decision-making and increased parental involvement. It is a catalyst to develop innovative programs, put them into effect and measure performances.
The Texas Do the Write Thing Challenge, in collaboration with hundreds of volunteers, is doing the right thing. We invite you to join us.
The Honorable Robert Eckels
State Chair, Do the Write Thing Texas Challenge