Helping kids succeed at school

David Taintor

Albert Einstein’s historic formula for energy and matter has been redefined: e = mc2 is now “Potential = Kids x Community2.”

The College of Education and Human Services invited Rick Miller to be the guest speaker for the Martin Morgensen Education Lecture Monday in Schofield Auditorium.

Miller’s lecture, titled “From Youth at Risk to Kids at Hope,” was delivered with energy and a contagious smile. Miller said these two things are instrumental steps to helping children succeed. Miller added his broad smile was partly due to Monday being “Infectious Smile Day.”

Miller said instead of labeling kids as “at risk” and creating a program for particular problem areas, communities must come together to invest whole-heartedly in their children.

To do this, Miller said, educators mustn’t label them; they must follow Einstein by asking the simplest questions and remain children ourselves. In doing this, one can see simple solutions to help kids succeed, such as showing genuine interest in and care for a child.

Senior elementary education major Tony Meincke said this isn’t practiced enough in schools or with problematic kids.

“A teacher will say, ‘oh get ready for him next year,’ that kind of thing,” Meincke said. “I think too often teachers will do that. I know that’s something I’m hoping to do, is not to do that. (But) it is hard.”

In 1999, Miller founded “Kids at Hope,” an organization with the purpose of inspiring and empowering schools and communities to create an environment where all children experience success, rather than being label “at risk” and abandoned.

Senior English education major Thomas Kauer attended Miller’s lecture to help reinforce positive practices for his future in teaching.

“I think it’s really refreshing to have messages of hope as opposed to all there is to fail,” Kauer said. “So I thought it was just a neat, encouraging presentation; instead of all the things we’re facing, (we hear) the reasons we’ll succeed.”

Miller challenged the idea of “programs” in schools, calling them more of a problem than an answer to a problem.

“Kids don’t grow up in programs . they grow up in communities,” Miller said.

Miller said that in order for children to be hopeful about their future, those around them must be hopeful and positive, too. This is why Miller and “Kids at Hope” believe the entire community should be inspired to help children – janitors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers – not just the professionals.

“Schools should be like Disney World – the happiest place on earth,” Miller said.

Even though Kauer enjoyed the lecture, he believes it will be a struggle.

“I think his message is so simple, but I don’t think it is implemented easy,” Kauer said. “I think it’s something you really need to work for; I don’t think it’s easy at all.”

Both Kauer and Meincke agreed that regardless of how difficult it may be to implement, it will pay off long term.

Miller said he was grateful for the opportunity to speak in Eau Claire and to a crowd of future teachers. They laughed when Miller conned them into standing when he said Monday was “National Standing Ovation Day.”