The Inspiration of Aspiration
Educator Russ Quaglia has students around the world believing in
About the Photo:
"Each of us has the ability to make a difference in the world for
kids." Russ Quaglia
perspectives help shape school reform at Freeport High
Long interested in the concept of aspirations and effective
interventions, leaders at Freeport High School in Maine have worked
with the National Center for Student Aspirations (NCSA) for five
Links Related to this
Russ Quaglia just finished a lively
telephone conversation with a Maine high school student about why some
teenagers reach their goals and others remain daydreamers.
Then the phone rang again.
This call was from a U.S. assistant secretary of state wondering if
research by the National Center for Student Aspirations (NCSA) might be
helpful in restructuring the schools of Afghanistan.
"That's what I'm most proud of," says Quaglia, NCSA director and
associate professor of education at The University of Maine. "We're a
Maine group filling national and international needs."
NCSA, established in 1995 in UMaine's College of Education and Human
Development, is dedicated to advancing the development of aspirations in
the lives of students. The center offers information for educators,
parents, volunteers, coaches and students in an effort to make the world
a better place for children to learn and develop into well-educated,
Quaglia leads a staff of 12 educational specialists in developing and
providing a variety of programs on topics from mentoring to parental
involvement in 65 Maine schools, and in schools throughout the
Northeast, Colorado, Oregon and Toronto, Canada.
Among the many NCSA initiatives: increasing the number of low-income
Maine high school students enrolling in advanced placement courses; and
helping educators and policy leaders in countries besieged by cycles of
violence, such as Northern Ireland, to strengthen students' aspirations.
In between special projects, the experts produce publications on a range
of subjects, from aspirations-building classroom activities to
reflective guides for parents.
"Twenty years ago, we were just a vision (of the college). Today, we are
the aspirations story," Quaglia says.
Quaglia started with statewide and national awareness campaigns,
spreading the simple messages he fervently believes can change schools
and positively influence students' lives. NCSA's watershed year was
1998. That March, Quaglia was named to the New England Association of
Schools and Colleges Board of Trustees. In May, he teamed with UMaine
alumnus and think-tank CEO Doug Hall to co-author a nationally
syndicated newspaper column for parents. That August, he was the lead
guest as "The Today Show" launched a series on American education
Quaglia stresses that all children can be productive contributors and
achievers in schools, if that is what is expected of them and if they
are given support and opportunity.
The essential element a positive attitude and involvement of educators
and other adults can change the teaching and learning environment to
emphasize the potential of students, not students as a problem, he says.
Students need to see the connection between their choices today and
their future opportunities.
The message hasn't changed since UMaine began looking into the link
between student aspirations and Maine economic development in the early
1980s. However, the delivery of that message has changed, and Quaglia is
Quaglia came to UMaine in 1987, fresh out of Columbia University with a
doctorate in educational leadership, focusing on organizational change.
He began building a multi-dimensional approach to collecting and
measuring students' perspectives about their education hopes for the
future, support networks and barriers.
Quaglia figured out how to present the voice of students as a valuable
indicator of school reform. Today, NCSA is recognized worldwide for its
"Eight Conditions" that foster aspiration. They reflect the difference
between dreams and aspirations.
Belonging Having a sense of self
and being a valuable community member.
Heroes Having an accessible, real-world role model to admire,
respect and seek out for guidance.
Sense of Accomplishment Achieving on personal, social and academic
levels, and being recognized for doing one's best.
Fun and Excitement Exhibiting genuine enjoyment in activities, and
being open to learning and growth.
Curiosity and Creativity Wanting to explore why and why not on the
journey to understanding.
Spirit of Adventure Being willing, and appreciating what it means,
to take a risk, to be successful, to fail and to try again.
Leadership and Responsibility Expressing ideas and accepting the
consequences of one's actions.
Confidence to Take Action Setting high goals and having positive
attitudes about working to achieve them.
The "Eight Conditions" form the core of
the center's work and the substance of its survey, "Students Speak: My
Education and My Future." The survey measures student aspirations and
provides information for schools based on the perspectives and needs of
Quaglia has fined-tuned and examined the list of conditions in more than
80,000 surveys of students, and outlined how educators, parents and
other adults can make them happen in his book, Believing in Achieving.
Quaglia travels extensively, meeting and working with educators, leaders
and organizations around the world, always focusing on what makes
schools better for students.
In Maine, a new 10-year Maine Aspirations Benchmarking Initiative, using
the "Students Speak" survey, is expected to generate an unprecedented
database of information from Maine students. It will help to establish a
national model of how schools can use their students' perspectives in
responsive reform efforts.
"Each of us has the ability to make a difference for kids," says Quaglia.
"The Eight Conditions' are in all of us. We just bring them to the
forefront and remind people that they have this incredible power."
by Kay Hyatt
for more stories from this issue of UMaine Today Magazine.