At Phelps Luck Elementary School in Columbia, staff members are making sure pupils understand the meaning behind a popular saying: People don't plan to fail, but fail to plan.
Through its Goal Getters program, the youngsters are learning an early lesson about the importance of setting goals to achieve their dreams.
"We're very honest with the students," said Tricia McCarthy, a Phelps Luck guidance counselor who started the program last year with summer school children. "We want them to improve, achieve and accelerate, and we tell them you've got to plan; you've got to set goals."
McCarthy said she created the program after reading Understanding a Framework for Poverty, a book that notes the positive effects of goal-setting on schools. Through the program, the approximately 500 Phelps Luck pupils set daily and weekly behavioral, academic and attendance objectives in their "goal folders." Classroom teachers and McCarthy meet regularly with them to ensure they remain on target to achieve their goals. Classroom lessons on goal-setting are included.
To determine their objectives, pupils can:
Identify content goals of specific interest to them.
Set general goals that allow for flexibility.
Personalize the teacher's goals.
Tap into their interests.
Grading and praising
The pupils grade themselves using numeric or letter scales to judge how well they did during a particular week.
For encouragement, the youths are continuously praised for setting and reaching their objectives. And, if they happen to miss a target, the staff works with them to get back on track, McCarthy said.
"The students are self-critical, and sometimes we have to help them understand they have improved," she said.
"So I'll make an announcement that a student has really improved, and I'll put a sticker in their folder that says, 'That rocks.'"
If a student doesn't meet a goal, McCarthy said she and teachers talk to the child about whether he or she has given "actual reasons or excuses" for not achieving the goal.
Parents also are encouraged to be involved in the program.
"It's been really well-received by them," McCarthy said. "Three times a year, the Goal Getters are asked to share their goals with their parents, and parents have to tell me that they got the goal sheets."
'Stick to something'
Fifth-graders Chloe Beatty and Leandre Scott said the program has aided them in comprehending the importance of setting goals.
"The program has helped me by teaching me how to stick to something," Chloe said. "I've learned you've got to have commitment."
Leandre added, "Goal Getters have helped me improve my grades. Last quarter, I got three A's, four B's and two C's. And now my goal is to improve my C's."
Nancy Koza, first-grade team leader, said there's been a "significant improvement" in attendance.
"The kids know they need to be in school, and the program has made a huge impact," she said.
Koza also participates in regular Kid Talk meetings at Phelps Luck, in which teachers and staff members discuss ways to help youths meet their goals.
McCarthy added that the Attendance Goal Getters are pupils whose absenteeism rate is at least 15 percent during the school year.
She said group members meet every two weeks to have their attendance charted with the hope of moving them out of the group in about four to six weeks.
McCarthy said she is examining data from the summer school group to determine how effective the program has been.
"We're seeing that they did make a change," she said.
The kids aren't the only ones setting goals. Staff members have joined the bandwagon and serve as each other's goal buddies for encouragement.
"Some teachers have said, 'I'm thinking about going back to school to get my master's degree or get my reading specialist certification,' " said McCarthy. "And they're setting goals for them."