The motto of the Global Institute for Student Aspirations (GISA) is, "Reaching Dreams Together."
The executive director of the Institute headquartered at Endicott College in Massachusetts, Dr. Russell Quaglia, was on the Peninsula recently for a series of work sessions with administrators, educators, community members and program leaders of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. GISA defines aspirations as "an individuals ability to identify and set goals for the future, while being inspired in the present to work towards those goals."
Dr. Quaglia says that he is finding all over the country that many kids that do the dreaming part of setting individual goals are not being inspired in the present to do anything about reaching those goals, "So what we are doing on the Kenai is working with community members to be aspiration advocates for students so they have a special person in there life that can inspire them to reach their fullest potential and also working with the district administrators so they can in turn work with their faculty to also meet their aspirations as well," said Quaglia during a lunch break at Skyview High School. Moving beyond educational rhetoric is key to the GISA program, "It's getting back to the basics and away from all this political reform mumbo-jumbo, and the basics are kids. Sometimes I think with all the testing that's going on and new curriculum being designed and hot programs coming out of institutions that we are losing site of the target, and the target is the student. We want people to take a step back and realize this is all about the heart and soul of kids and how we are reaching and inspiring them and help them want to go to school and enjoy going to school and wanting to learn," added Quaglia.
One of Quaglia's themes is creating a sense of belonging, feeling a part of a community but maintaining a sense of individuality. A simple thing like asking someone how they are doing and then waiting for them to answer is a novel thought in education and generally in society says Quaglia. "If I had to characterize all the work we do at the Institute it's exactly about listening to students about education. It's common to listen to policy makers, we listen to people in their nineties about what we should and shouldn't do, but rarely do we talk to kids and listen to what they are saying about what would make a difference for me, and that's precisely what we are teaching people," said Quaglia.
Several years ago Sheilah-Margaret Pothast as a volunteer started an aspirations advocate program at Skyview High School. The program became so popular that it quickly spread to Soldotna Middle School, and by this fall it is expected that nearly ten KPBSD school sites from elementary to high school will be implementing a student aspirations advocate program. "It all depends on the volunteers. Many adults and students will choose to work on a year long project. This project may include doing something for the school, working on a computer project, writing, or a variety of other projects that meet the interests of the student and volunteer. Others may just meet to talk, play games, and discuss school," said Pothast.
It's about being a hero says Dr. Quaglia, "Heroes are everyday people in a person's life who inspire them to excel and to make positive changes in attitudes and lifestyles. Heroes are those a person can connect with and who will listen to their ideas." To find out more about the local aspirations advocate program, or to volunteer, contact Sheila-Margaret Pothast at 262-7675. To learn more about the Global Institute for Student Aspirations, log on to www.globalaspirations.org
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