Saturday, November 14, 2009

Escape Velocity and Project Coach

In Thursday's class we did an activity where I asked students to find a sentence in Paul Tough's Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America. A student immediately raised her hand and said, "The escape velocity section really moved me." She read this section:

 The faster you shoot a cannonball, the farther it would travel before falling to earth….if you shoot a cannonball fast enough, it will actually escape earth’s gravity and go into orbit. The question is what it takes to achieve escape velocity… In communities like Harlem, people tend to think that a single decent program for poor children is enough to provide escape velocity, to give the children the momentum to orbit around their communities and not be damaged. But they’re wrong… the gravity of the community always pulls the child back down. (pp. 231-232)

A wonderful discussion ensued: What does it take for a program or a school to sustain escape velocity? This question came back up at our Project Coach staff meeting on Friday. Do we provide enough boost to our youth to keep them on trajectory for success and college? 

The metaphor challenges all of us who work in youth programs to look deeply at our programs and ask these fundamental questions. 

  • Does our program provide enough boost to the youth we work with?
  • What is the nature of that boost? Are there times in a youth's life when we can anticipate that they will need a boost and what supports are in place to make that happen? We talked about how when high school students get to the age when it's important to think about college are there resources in place to help them negotiate the college application and financial aid process? 
  • When a youth starts to be susceptible to the forces of gravity, is the program tuned into his or her life enough to notice? If they notice what do they do?

Aside from the content of the conversation we had about Escape Velocity, the larger value was the time at a staff meeting to tangle with our hopes and aspirations for our program. At the core, what is Project Coach about? What can we do and what our limitations? The poetry of Geoffrey Candada enabled us to get to a deeper and more conceptual place. I am always struck by the power of poetry to trigger conversations that matter. 

r children reach “escape velocity.” What do you think it takes to achieve this escape veloc-

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