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Changing the Odds

A Changemaker School in Dallas shares its best practices and convenes others around social and emotional development.

By Laura White

In May 2012, Laura graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in Political Economy. While at Tulane, Laura brought her Youth Venture project, Swim 4 Success, to New Orleans, LA, and was a founding member of Tulane’s Ashoka U Changemaker Campus team. As a member of the Empathy Initiative, Laura manages the Changemaker Schools network, a group of schools that have given empathy as much priority as math and literacy. Laura is passionate about changemaker education, empathy, and transforming early childhood education.

August 12, 2013

J. Erik Jonsson Community School (JEJCS) is not your typical private school. Situated in the heart of the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, 75% of JEJCS students qualify for the free or reduced price federal lunch program. Only 74% of JEJCS mothers and 60% of JEJCS fathers graduated from high school, and Spanish is the family language for 53% of students. Yet all students in grades 3-5 take the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR), and 94% passed both the reading and math sections during the 2011-2012 school year.

What is the secret to JEJCS’s success?

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Although there is never one quick solution in education, JEJCS is part of an innovative organization called the Salesmanship Club Youth and Family Centers, whose mission is to help transform children’s futures and to create new opportunities for their success. One important strategy of the Salesmanship Club Youth and Family Centers is to marry mental health with education and to provide a strong social and emotional foundation for students to draw upon throughout their academic careers. For example, at JEJCS, the MindUp curriculum is used to teach students mindfulness and strategies for emotional resilience.

This approach to education has led to more than the short-term results produced on the state standardized tests. Indeed, since JEJCS is a private school, it is not required to administer these tests and only does so to build evidence for why their holistic model is applicable to all low-income students.  The real goal of JEJCS and the Salesmanship Youth and Family Centers is to produce happy, healthy, and successful people, so the research arm of the center tracks student achievement through high school and college. According to JEJCS, 95% of former students graduate from high school on time, and 92% enroll in post secondary education.

Although these achievements are impressive, JEJCS and the Salesmanship Youth and Family Centers strive to fulfill their mission in contexts beyond the school. Indeed JEJCS also evaluates its success through “program-sharing” metrics so that educators can benefit from the insights JEJCS has uncovered. On September 26 and 27, JEJCS and the Salesmanship Club Youth and Family Centers will be hosting their second annual “Changing the Odds” conference in Dallas, which “will be attended by 700 educators and mental health professionals who are committed to learning about innovative ways to help kids and families achieve their full potential.” Featured speakers include Paul Tough, Carol Dweck, and JEJCS and Salesmanship Club staff.

To attend the Changing the Odds conference, you can register here.