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Recipes for School Success.

Mr. Goldberg talks with a woman who parlayed the paraphernalia of daily home life into a program that enables her to influence parent involvement across the country.

AN ENERGETIC, bright, determined, and plainspoken woman, Dorothy Rich took the obvious and the mundane and transformed them into a well-organized educational enterprise. Everyone in education knows how crucial the family is to a child's educational success, but rarely do educators do more than bemoan the fact that a particular child is ill-prepared to learn. During the 1960s and 1970s, when the continuing calls for school reform began to sweep the profession as a result of books by such people as John Holt, Christopher Jencks, and Jonathan Kozol, it was the rare educator who thought to put together the hundreds of ways in which parents could be of specific help to children in their homes. Almost all the reform and support programs then and since - such as Head Start or programs to train teachers and administrators to do things differently in the school - have concentrated on offering help outside the home.

But Dorothy Rich took a different approach. Using paper cartons, tables, lamps, chairs, electric bills, and other paraphernalia of daily life in a home, Rich began in the early 1960s to construct "recipes" and to generate modest ideas that would teach parents how to help their children learn what they needed to know to achieve academic success. She began offering workshops to parents, teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, and other school professionals. Rich's original purposes were to teach parents the homespun methods they could use to help their children get ready for success in school and to show educators how they could help parents use these methods. It soon became apparent to Rich that selected parents and school personnel could train other groups.

Dorothy Rich's recipes for school success became known to many community and educational organizations in the 1970s, particularly in the Washington, D.C., area where Rich lived. Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, lauds Rich as one of a handful of people who understood early on the important role families could play and who eventually influenced the parent involvement component of the federal Title I program. Rich now works with the U.S. Department of Education on ways in which parents can be part of any improvement or reform program.

The Home and School Institute - incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in Washington, D.C., in 1972 with Dorothy Rich as its president - has to date trained more than 100,000 families in 48 states in the art of using egg cartons, empty boxes, the monthly rent or mortgage bills, vacuum cleaners, and cars to help children both at home and in school to get ready to learn. Rich's book MegaSkills, first published by Houghton Mifflin in 1988, organizes many of her ideas and specific lessons and is now in its third edition with more than 350,000 copies sold. The book has been endorsed by Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund; by Robert Chase, president of the National Education Association; by Tipper Gore; and by former senator and now Presidential candidate Bill Bradley. This is heady stuff for a woman raised in a modest home in Michigan where "chickens roamed in the backyard."

Dorothy Rich grew up as the child of immigrant parents in the 1930s and early 1940s in Monroe, Michigan. "Mine is the first generation in my family to go to college," she relates. In fact, her parents were never comfortable with English and spoke Yiddish at home. But they did emphasize the extreme importance of education to Dorothy and her brother, both of whom eventually earned doctorates, and they did everything they could to encourage their children to do well in the "solid, excellent, supportive schools in Monroe, where teachers really cared about you and taught with purpose."

When Dorothy was 13, her mother died after a two-year illness, and the family moved to Detroit. Her older brother went to college, and Dorothy found herself an outsider in the city high school, "which was too big and where it was difficult for a teenager to break in socially if you didn't know people from the earlier years." In spite of that, Dorothy did well in her schoolwork, went to the University of Michigan for two years, and completed her undergraduate work at Wayne State University. By 1964 she had earned a master's degree from Teachers College, Columbia University; had taught in two schools in different states; had married and moved to Washington, D.C.; and was the at-home mother of two small children. As a result of what she had learned in the previous few years at Teachers College and as a high school teacher in Virginia, she began conducting workshops for teachers and parents in the evening division of the University of Virginia.

When Rich taught high school in Virginia in the late 1950s and asked her colleagues in several grades why so many youngsters did not seem prepared to learn, she got a standard answer. "My high school colleagues said the junior high teachers didn't do the job; the junior high teachers blamed the elementary teachers, who in turn blamed the family. So I began to ask, What do we want the family to do?" Motherhood gave her considerable insight into just how rapidly and how much children could learn at home. In the professional literature, she was influenced by the work of Benjamin Bloom, who had "started to measure what children learn before they come to school. Bloom was interested in the role of the family - something that was never mentioned in any teacher-training work." Rich soon became convinced that there were skills that children needed to learn outside of school if they were going to do well in school subjects.

In 1964 Rich began a Sunday column in the Washington Post called "Home and School." Each week, she wrote about specific ways in which families could help children prepare for school. "This was before the time of self-help books and included recipes for promoting learning in English, social studies, mathematics, and other school subjects." The recipes began to pile up, Rich began to have a serious readership, and she was now conducting more fully developed workshops for parents called "Success for Children Begins at Home."

By 1972, when Rich established the Home and School Institute, she had hundreds of recipes for learning that began to form around such concepts as confidence and responsibility - concepts that would eventually become what Rich calls MegaSkills. The University of Virginia's Northern Virginia Center, Trinity College, and Catholic University began to support Rich's work. In addition, "I had a considerable following from the Washington Post column, and school districts would often give me a room where I could do training. Sometimes the schools paid for this, and sometimes parents paid."

In 1980 the U.S. Department of Education asked Rich to develop a program for special education. She "took rooms in two schools in Washington and turned them into a replica of a home. Throughout this home I attached special education home-learning recipes to walls, furniture, and lamps. The children would come in with their parents, and we would demonstrate how this works. It was called The Family Place, and I trained teachers and paraprofessionals to do the training." Rich's program kept expanding into areas such as bilingual training or training that concentrated on the specific needs of the American Postal Workers' Union or the American Red Cross or Parents Without Partners.

By 1987 Rich was able to "pull together my work from many previous years and programs" and develop it into an organized program with application to all groups interested in education - but there was no book to illustrate her accomplishment.

Rich had received support from the Mott Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. She had also taken the program around the country and had prepared several of the best participants in her program to become trainers. In addition, Rich had received her doctorate from Catholic University, where her work focused on the relationship between home learning and school achievement. Her doctoral work, of course, got her to think more seriously about organizing her lessons, recipes, and training programs more carefully and coherently. Just at that point, Don Cameron of the National Education Association, where Rich rented office space, saw the piles of booklets and pamphlets and materials all over her office and told her, "You're the Dr. Spock of education, Dorothy, but not enough people know about you. You've got to pull all this together in a book." Cameron's persistent encouragement was the impetus for Rich to write MegaSkills.

"The MegaSkills are the values, the attitudes, and the behaviors that determine success in school and on the job," she states. Over a period of

years, the skills that emerged were Confidence, Motivation, Effort, Responsibility, Initiative, Perseverance, Caring, Teamwork, Common Sense, Problem Solving, and Focus. And it was around these 11 MegaSkills that Rich organized her book. There are dozens of recipes to go with each skill, and new recipes are developed each year. "If I'm going to teach a youngster responsibility, for instance, one recipe is called 'My Special Place.' The special place is a simple box at the front door. This is where the child, assisted by a parent if necessary, places everything he or she will need for school in the morning." The telephone is an excellent tool for teaching Confidence. "With a very young child, we do activities that help the child to get confident about dialing numbers, dialing grandma, reading left to right. With an older child, we use the telephone to get information. When does the movie start, or when does the library close?"

MegaSkills is not designed to substitute for the work of school, although the program does link recipes to academic objectives. Looking at a mortgage statement or an insurance policy with a youngster is linked to mathematics and reading. Pointing out natural objects while walking down an ordinary street with a child links to science. Nothing in the MegaSkills program is extremely complex or demanding. That sort of work is left for school. This is basic preparation for success, and Rich is the first to acknowledge that her program is "not rocket science." What is rocket science about her program, however, is its organization into 11 categories, the hundreds and hundreds of elegantly simple and well-conceived recipes to support the categories, and the many applications for the MegaSkills. No parent or teacher or group of parents and teachers could easily put together what more than 30 years of careful thought, accumulation of successful lessons, and field-testing have created.

MegaSkills is a brand name for the recipes it represents. But it is also a proven and serious training program. "If you're going to call it MegaSkills, you must use the MegaSkills training activities, and you don't just put in positive parenting or some other material that may be respectable but is not part of this program. This is not a management program of children; it is not a discipline program; it's a program designed to build academics and character development in young people - basically the habits and attitudes and behaviors you need for learning and ultimately for job success." The focus is on using the home to supplement what the school does, not to supplant it. The parents or the professionals who are going to train the parents go through a fully configured workshop that includes warm-up activities, demonstrations, lectures, and small- group activities. There is considerable room for creativity on the part of the workshop leader in how things are presented, but the broad outline and most of the activities are provided.

All the publicity for MegaSkills is by word of mouth. From Saipan to Alaska, from New York to Nebraska, MegaSkills workshops are held because some community group or school has requested a session. Usually there are 24 people taking part in a one- or two-day workshop, although longer workshops can be provided. The cost of the workshops includes all of the books and materials that are needed for the session as well as any follow-up meetings. There are eight qualified trainers and 1,500 certified workshop leaders who have taught MegaSkills workshops in four countries and 48 states. These are all experienced people who have come through the ranks of the organization. The leaders work with Rich, are highly qualified, and do all the original training of a group. The trainers are some of the best people who have gone through workshops and in turn train people in their local areas. In fact, MegaSkills training stresses the obligation to share what you have learned with others. Altogether, these leaders have appeared in 3,000 schools in the U.S.

Dorothy Rich's work has been recognized and honored in many ways. She has received citations for the excellence and usefulness of her work from the National Governors' Association and the U.S. Department of Education. In 1992 the MegaSkills program received the A+ for Breaking the Mold Award from the U.S. Department of Education after several school districts reported good results. In Memphis, for example, researchers from Memphis State University reported that MegaSkills students were watching less TV than other students. Research specialists from the schools in Austin reported that students exposed to MegaSkills got better scores on national and state achievement tests and had fewer discipline problems in school than other students.

None of this completely satisfies Dorothy Rich. She wants entire schools to be organized around MegaSkills. Indeed, she even has a visionary plan for a MegaSkills city. Rich is certain that youngsters today are less prepared to learn than they were 25 years ago. "MegaSkills can give students a structured program to move through the mess and endless complexity of learning. Just because a teacher says something to a student doesn't mean the student has absorbed or learned it." Students need the basic supporting structures to be able to focus on learning: the 11 skills that enable all important learning in school and in work. Rich is equally convinced that many adults are also lacking in MegaSkills and can't be proper role models for young people. In her characteristically energetic and creative way, Dorothy Rich continually thinks of new audiences, new recipes, new training ideas, and new ways to get people to pay attention to the MegaSkills program. She has decided that, instead of putting "children first, I now believe it's parents and teachers first. We have to teach them MegaSkills, so they can be proper role models, and so they can teach those skills to children."

Those who would like to learn more about the MegaSkills program should write to Dorothy Rich at the following address: Dorothy Rich, President, Home and School Institute, MegaSkills Center, 1500 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20005; ph. 202/466-3633.

MARK F. GOLDBERG is an education writer and consultant who lives in East Setauket, N.Y. He recently published How to Design an Advisory System for a Secondary School (ASCD, 1998). He can be reached at

The Dorothy Rich

'Learning Leaders' Awards Program

THE Dorothy Rich Awards will consist of $500 cash grants from the Home and School Institute, which will be made to 10 individuals to support educators' practical visions for a stronger educational future for children.

Themes for the awards program. The awards focus on educators and parents who are helping one another to help children develop and maintain their love of learning - putting across the educational values that really matter. The awards will focus on the work of educators in problem solving for at-risk children and on the educational role of the family.

Eligibility requirements. To be eligible, teachers and administrators must be currently working in compensatory education with a record of demonstrated experience in family/school efforts. Membership is required in one of the following national organizations that have a record of cooperation with the Home and School Institute: Council of the Great City Schools, National Education Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Federal Education Program Administrators, and Phi Delta Kappa.

Nomination procedures. Teachers, principals, and other administrators may submit nominations of individuals they know; self-nomination is acceptable, as well. A brief nomination form is available from the Home and School Institute. It is to be accompanied by two brief recommendations from children, parents, or colleagues.

Entry submissions. Lively and informative presentations are encouraged and can be submitted in a variety of formats - written, audio, graphic - along with an end product addressing these four items: 1) a key problem related to parent involvement and children's school achievement; 2) actions taken to solve the problem and the impact of those actions; 3) a statement of vision for a stronger learning community for children, along with a description of the nominee's efforts to build such a community; and 4) how the nominee plans to use the award to further the vision.

Criteria. Are the messages worth hearing? Worth sharing? What can others learn from them? Do the changes and ideas make a needed contribution to the field? Do they display a sense of innovation and a creative approach to problem solving and to improving the educational process, especially for children in need?

Entry deadline. The deadline for completed entries is 30 June 1999. Winners will be announced through the participating national organizations, their newsletters, and webpages; through press releases to media and school districts; and on the Home and School Institute website.

For more information and the brief nomination form, contact: MegaSkills Center, Home and School Institute, 1500 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20005; ph. 202/466-3633; fax 202/833-1400; e-mail: HSIDRA; website:
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Author:Goldberg, Mark F.
Publication:Phi Delta Kappan
Date:Jun 1, 1999
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