After Bell

Students at Kennett Middle School's After-The-Bell program wear T-shirts signifying they are the 5,000th through the program. More than half the students at Kennett Middle School Attend the program.

When Joan Holliday and I wrote “The Story of Kennett—Shaping Our Future One Child at a Time”, we discovered the top priority of the community was getting the kids right. This translates to programs like “After the Bell”, “The Garage”, and the current focus on “Kindergarten Readiness”.

Much of the work to prepare the kids for launch is done by the school system. A new book discusses this process titled “Prepared” by Diane Tavenner. She reviews her Summit School program that had the parents in Atherton California, develop a school from the bottom up.Like most experiments it wasn’t completely successful as they found the best route in development is to have the curiosity of the student drive self-directed learning, which translated to spending a lot more time on computers.

And four more hours a day on a screen is not what most parents want. But there is a lot of real world data in the book that is useful for anyone who is trying to prepare their children for the 21stcentury.

I asked one of the school Principals from Southern Chester County what he thought of the book. He said he had only read the reviews but was able to provide some ideas that he felt were thought provoking: 1) The cycle of knowledge and learning for an individual is self-driven; therefore, students need to learn to follow their natural curiosities. 2) Up until third grade students are learning to read; after third grade the approach shifts to reading to learn. 3) Prior knowledge of a subject correlates with academic achievement. 4) The top three blocks in the habits of success are self-direction, curiosity, and sense of purpose.

All of these impact how a school will get the best results developing a student. Kennett has always emphasized that we teach to the individual child, and what is good for that child drives everything the district does. I believe that is a big reason for Kennett’s success.

The idea of learning to read by third grade so you can start reading to learn,sounds good, but in a recent survey of American schools 20% of 8th graders don’t read as well as we expect a proficient 3rd grader to read. It is no wonder that the US ranks 17th in the world in reading. As recently as 20 years ago we were #1 in high school and college performance. This has a lot to do with other developed countries improving and the US plateauing.

The idea that knowledge of a subject is required to make progress in that subject is a concept that I hadn’t thought about. Making progress in a subject is about doing more than acquiring knowledge. My first two years of engineering education at Penn State were Calculus, Statistics, Chemistry, Physics, Thermodynamics, etc. There were electives like English, Philosophy and Phys Ed but the focus was engineering, and science.

These first two years were a slog but you couldn’t do engineering without understanding thefundamentals of the sciences. The last two years of my major, Industrial Engineering, were exciting as I applied this knowledge. And my career was fulfilling in so many ways. Still, it wasn’t easy, half the college students dropped out.

The idea that we have habits of success that drive an individual’s learning is fairly profound. It is not easy to harness self-direction, curiosity, and sense of purpose.Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Michael Dell dropped out of college to invent the future as they found their direction and purpose.Still, if my child came to me and said they wanted to quit school to follow their dream, it would scare the daylights out of me.

I really enjoyed the insights to project based learning and setting goals and objectives. We didn’t have much of that when I was in school. But I can see how Kennett’s Robotics Club and their participation in the national competition teach so many skills from how to design and build a robot to how to raise money in the community and manage social media. I find that my grandkids are being taught how to develop goals for themselves and accomplish them.

My 12-year-old granddaughter Sarah decided she wanted tosing and play her guitar on stage, in front of a live audience, before she turned 13. That is a S.M.A.R.T. goal. Kids are being trained to provide structured feedback and learning how to present TED talks. Ask your child or grandchild for a TED talk on how to play Fortnight.

Schools are developing mentor rich environments and teaching the concepts of team building - forming, storming, norming and performing. One of the most powerful concepts is “Self-Direction.” It is often a child’s curiosity that leads them to be interested in a subject and that motivates them to direct their actions to learn more about it, build competency, and even generate a purpose in a life.

The coordination of building these capabilities across a classroom, middle school and school district is not easy. Report cards don’t measure self-direction or purpose in life. Most tests don’t cover the knowledge and skills of team building. And most parents don’t realize they should be instilling these skills if they want their child to master the capabilities.

Our three school districts are doing a great job getting our kids ready, but we as a community need to understand what that means and what we want it to mean.

The Story of Kennett may be purchased on Amazon and at the Mushroom Cap or Resale Book Shoppe in Kennett. You can contact Bob at
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