Entire community can -- and should -- play role in helping students achieve their dreams

Adult assignment: helping kids succeed

Posted: Wednesday, September 05, 2001

A couple of years ago I was talking with a 10-year-old child and asked him the question that children that age get asked frequently.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" I asked.

"I want to be an engineer," he replied. You could tell he was impatient with my question. The poor kid had probably been asked the same question a million times.

Trying to make conversation with the young fellow I said, "I've always wanted to drive those big trains. I think that would be an interesting career."

He looked at me with a puzzled expression and then said, "No, I want to be an environmental engineer so I can help reclaim parts of the earth that the human race has wrecked."

Needless to say I was taken aback and pleasantly surprised that his young man had such a clear vision and purpose in mind.

But as I reflected on this incident, I recalled many of the young people I have come in contact with who have lost that clear vision. They have temporarily lost those aspirations that we all need in order to feel good about ourselves.

A lot of questions started to form in my mind. Can they regain their vision and hope for their future, their aspirations? How can that be done? Where does one start to help a person regain their dream?

Last summer I had the opportunity to learn about aspirations from Dr. Russ Quaglia and the staff at the National Center for Student Aspirations. With over 20 years of research, NCSA has identified eight conditions which impact the development of a child's aspirations. What follows is a list of the eight conditions that the NCSA has identified:

Belonging: Children having a feeling of who they are and being a valuable member of a community.

Heroes: Children having a role model that they admire, respect, can meaningfully relate to and seek out for guidance.

Sense of accomplishment: Children achieving on personal, social and academic levels and being recognized for doing their best, whatever it is.

Fun and excitement: Children exhibiting genuine enjoyment and endless energy toward activities and being open to learning and growth.

Curiosity and creativity: Children wanting to be pioneers in exploring "why" and "why not," on the trail to understanding.

Spirit of adventure: Children understanding and appreciating what it means to take a risk, be successful, to fail and try again.

Leadership and responsibility: Children expressing their ideas and accepting the consequences of their actions.

Confidence to take action: Children setting high goals and having positive attitudes about working to achieve them.

Certainly, there are many more factors that also effect aspirations. However, we know that the above eight conditions are the ones teachers and parents can make happen.

The eight conditions are organized in a pyramid fashion and are clustered in three categories:

Foundations for Aspirations



Sense of accomplishment

Motivation and Enthusiasm for Aspirations

Fun and excitement,

Spirit of adventure,

Curiosity and creativity

Lifelong Aspirations Mindset

Leadership and Responsibility,

Confidence to Take Action

The base of the pyramid consists of "Belonging, Heroes and Sense of Accom-plishment." The middle layer of the pyramid consists of "Fun and excitement, Spirit of adventure, and Curiosity and creativity." And the top third of the pyramid is made up of "Leadership and responsibility and Confidence to take action."

In the next few weeks, I will be explaining and discussing each of the conditions that are listed above. It is my belief that we can make a difference with students if we take the time to look at our role as parents, and if we remember the impact we have on our children day in and day out.

The eight conditions in the "Aspirations Pyramid" can help us help our children become young people with aspirations for success.

Hank Overturf, the assistant principal at Kenai Central High School, has 26 years of experience in education. He has been with the Kenai Peninsula School District for 10 years.

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