Walk into T.W. Browne Middle School and you will notice a 5-foot-tall steel safe in the entry lobby.
The safe might not have gold or money, but it’s still filled with valuables: letters that students wrote to themselves about their future goals. The safe also has some parent-written letters detailing their dreams for their child’s future.
Similar safes are currently in 11 other Dallas ISD schools as part of the School Time-Capsule Project organized by Bill Betzen, a retired Dallas ISD teacher who now volunteers with the district. Betzen started the School Time-Capsule Project as a way to help students think about their futures and communicate with their parents about lifelong hopes and dreams.
Tina Baker, seventh-grade assistant principal at Browne Middle School, said parental engagement is a top priority for the school this year. She said the School Time-Capsule Project is a big help in that effort.
“The project helps get kids and parents talking with each other, which is critically important during these junior high years,” Baker said. “The project shows students that their parents still care. It also helps the students internalize and seriously think about what they want for their futures.”
Betzen started the School Time-Capsule Project at Quintanilla Middle School in 2005 while working at the school as a teacher.
The letters sit in the safe for 10 years. Students can then return to the school and, as 23- and 24-year-olds, pick up the letters they wrote back in high school.
Betzen has tweaked the School Time-Capsule Project over the years to make it even more effective. Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders now all write letters to themselves every year.
Participating schools now have students write letters to their parents asking them for a letter about their future hopes and dreams. This has increased parental involvement from about 30 percent to more than 80 percent in some classrooms.
Betzen said the Time-Capsule Project is an open-source project that schools can start doing on their own.
“We have seen tremendous success with this project so far,” Betzen said. “I invite anyone interested in increasing parental involvement and having students seriously think about their futures to participate!”