Post Winter Break Tips   Leave a comment

The new year presents a fantastic opportunity to get your students excited about their learning. This is important now that many of them have just returned from a long, restful vacation and may not feel especially motivated to do their homework, pay attention in class, or participate much.

To help you get your students excited and ready to learn, we have created this list of tips that you can use in your classroom:

1. Engage students in their learning by providing more opportunities for self-direction. Rather than lecturing students, give them chances to express themselves and to set the pace for the class. Let students discover their own individual learning styles, and give them opportunities to choose how they utilize those styles.

2. Give students more control. Create a class contract. Let students set the rules for behavior in your class. Add the contract expectations students can have about your role as the teacher

3. Ask for feedback. Regularly hold class meetings to allow students to share what they would like to learn or do next. Be sure to utilize a “talking stick” or another prop so that only one student speaks at a time.

4. Provide rewards for student achievement. Have students set goals- both personal and academic- and provide small rewards or treats when they meet those goals.

5. Find new methods of teaching. Students get bored when they have to reenact the same lecture or lesson every day. Evaluate yourself continually, and find different ways to engage your students.

We hope that this list will help you to create a more stimulating and interactive environment for you and your students!



Overcoming Obstacles Achievement Awards 2012   Leave a comment

This year’s Overcoming Obstacles Achievement Awards dinner will certainly be very hard to top!

The event, which was held on October 25, was a very special night. Community for Education Foundation celebrated its 20th anniversary with educators, supporters and students of the Overcoming Obstacles program. Everyone in attendance had a wonderful time, mingling amongst each other, getting to know the honorees, and snapping photos with one another in the photo booth.

We honored three students who embody the spirit of the Overcoming Obstacles Life Skills Program and are using the skills they learned through the program to overcome challenges in their lives. January Little and Ervina Desaussure from Charleston, South Carolina, along with Booray Adam Nour from New York City, gave breathtaking speeches that left many in the audience in tears. Each student received a $10,000 college scholarship and a Student Achievement Award.

We also recognized Charleston County School District with this year’s Achievement in Education Award in honor of the outstanding job they have been doing bringing relevant life skills instruction to all of their schools. Superintendent Nancy McGinley accepted the award on the district’s behalf. Martha Rivers Ingram, chairman emerita of Ingram Industries, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award for her leadership in business and her outstanding dedication to philanthropy, education, and the arts.

The Achievement Awards are instrumental to our efforts nationwide, as every donation received through the event directly supports the Gifting Initiative and allows us to provide the Overcoming Obstacles Life Skills Program to school districts free of charge. With the support raised through this year’s event, we will be able to expand the initiative to even more school districts nationwide.

Thank you to everyone who made the 2012 Overcoming Obstacles Achievement Awards dinner possible!


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Posted November 15, 2012 by Overcoming Obstacles in Overcoming Obstacles

Expanded Success Initiative Kick-off Event   Leave a comment

Although it has been only a few weeks since the Expanded Success Initiative’s (ESI) fall kick-off event in New York, several schools that were represented at the event are already enrolling in the Gifting Initiative, through which we provide the complete Overcoming Obstacles Life Skills Program to school districts nationwide at no cost.

Hundreds of educators attended the ESI event and learned about how they can use the Overcoming Obstacles program to support the ESI, which was launched in 2011 by the New York City Department of Education to close the achievement gap for African-American and Latino males. The kick-off event was held to connect ESI schools with free educational resources and curriculum supports.

Community for Education Foundation staff members distributed free Overcoming Obstacles materials, including DVD copies of our short film, information packets, tote bags, and books. Many of the educators at the event were greatly interested in the program and we are working to bring effective life skills instruction to their schools via Overcoming Obstacles.

Overcoming Obstacles Back-to-School Handbook   Leave a comment

Although most schools have already been in session for almost a month, some students might still be struggling to settle into their daily routines. With all the stress of making new friends, meeting new teachers, and having to focus on schoolwork again after a long summer off, it can be tough for young people to get back into the swing of things. The first few weeks of a new school year can be very nerve-racking.

To help teachers smooth students’ return to school and create friendlier classroom environments, we created our Overcoming Obstacles Back-to-School Handbook, which is filled with activity-based lessons that bring students closer together and help build stronger student-teacher relationships. These activities are designed to help students manage their stress by showing them how to build self-esteem, develop personal management skills, and understand the importance of teamwork. Each activity in the Back-to-School Handbook requires little to no materials and can be easily modified to meet individual classroom needs.

The Overcoming Obstacles Back-to-School Handbook is available for free on our site. Download it today, and ensure that you and your students can build a comfortable learning environment!


Florida and South Carolina Trainings   Leave a comment

The month of August was very productive for the Overcoming Obstacles curriculum team! Because of the team’s efforts, several hundred educators across Florida and South Carolina now have Overcoming Obstacles and will be implementing it this school year.

In Florida’s Pinellas County, Executive Director Erin Capone and Coordinator of Education Partnerships Natasha Terhorst showed over 300 educators from 7 different schools the many ways that they can implement Overcoming Obstacles in their classrooms. At one workshop, educators from Meadowlawn Middle School had originally envisioned using the program solely in a 12-week course for their seventh graders. However, a few minutes into the training the principal and his team had identified seven different ways they would like to use the program; they’ve decided to bring it to all of their students.

(As an interesting side note: Erin and Natasha were welcomed into one workshop with a masterful bagpipe serenade by a middle school principal, who then “knighted” each of them into his school community. This principal brought his entire staff to the training, saying that Overcoming Obstacles presents an opportunity to transform his school.)

In South Carolina, Director of Educator Partnerships Jason Urbanski and Manager of Educator Support Rossana Villaflor facilitated three different trainings for educators from Charleston, Horry, and Newberry counties. The educators participated in hands-on activities from the curriculum that will help them promote safe and healthy schools.

We’re excited to see what Overcoming Obstacles will accomplish in South Carolina and Florida, and we’re proud to support these educators!


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The Importance of Life Skills by Aaron Siegal   1 comment

This blog was written by Aaron Siegal, a student from Los Angeles, CA who interned for us over the summer. Although he is not an Overcoming Obstacles student, he recognizes the necessity for learning life skills in school. Aaron is an exceptionally bright and talented senior in high school and it was a pleasure working with him! 

As a high school student, I have learned many important lessons in the classroom. The knowledge I gained from my math, history, English, and science courses will help me tremendously throughout my life. Unfortunately, there are some important life skills that are not taught in school—in fact, they’re hardly even discussed. Instead, we’re expected to have and use these skills without ever having learned them.

You don’t have to be an adult to realize that some life skills are just as, if not more, vital to succeeding in life than your high school curricula. These skills can make the difference between those who do or do not succeed in school. They’re also important when applying for a job, dealing with family, or handling personal relationships.

Without these skills, students are at a disadvantage. That’s why life skills need to be taught in the classroom. Based on my experience in school, these are a few of the skills that I think are most important:

  • Responsibility: Everyone makes mistakes in life. Eventually, we all come to accept that. It’s important for students to realize that there is nothing wrong with admitting they erred. Whether dealing with a teacher, boss, or parent, no one wants to hear excuses. When students mess up, they need to know that the next step is not to pass the blame on to someone/something else, but to move on and make sure the wrong never happens again. The most successful people are those who are more concerned with fixing themselves than with blaming others.
  • Communication: Everyone needs to master this skill because it is applicable in any situation or field. It is important to be clear when giving instructions, making plans, or expressing your thoughts. If you cannot convey what you are thinking then you cannot make progress in your life. Communication skills will benefit students throughout their lives. In school, if students are lost in class, they must know how to communicate this to their teacher and ask well thought out questions in order to improve their knowledge on the subject. The same skills carry over to the workplace.
  • Positive Attitude: It’s important to always keep a calm and positive temper. Students must know how to manage their stress, anger, sadness, and other emotions, as such things can interfere with their lives.
  • Organization: Organization is an under appreciated skill. It’s often something that people push to the backs of their minds, but it can make a huge difference. Everyone has their own way of being organized. It’s important for students to develop a steady routine that works best for them. Organization can range from coordinating how much time they spend working on different projects to managing important papers or personal items. Being able to organize themselves and not relying on others, such as their parents, is a huge step toward becoming responsible individuals.

These skills are essential if students are to become successful adults. With programs like Overcoming Obstacles, schools can make sure that all students are ready for the future.


Inspiring Education Films   Leave a comment

With a few weeks left before your kids return to school, you might still be looking for fun ways to engage them educationally. While being active is a vital part of a child’s lifestyle, relaxation is also important. Motivational films are a great way for you to spend time with your kids while also opening up avenues for meaningful discussion. Here’s a list of films that are not only entertaining, but are also educational, uplifting, and inspiring:

  • Dead Poets Society: PG (1989) Robin Williams plays the part of Professor John Keating, who changes the lives of a few young men by teaching them about the Dead Poets Society.
  • Stand and Deliver: PG (1988) Edward James Olmos plays a high school teacher who uses his unconventional teaching methods to inspire students who have no hope for themselves to learn calculus.
  • The Breakfast: (1985) Five high school students with nothing in common, each one fitting into a different high school stereotype, spend a day in detention together and end up becoming great friends.
  • A Beautiful Mind: PG-13 (2001) This movie tells the story of the life of John Nash, a famed mathematician who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1994 but was also diagnosed with schizophrenia while teaching at MIT.
  • Good Will Hunting: (1997) Matt Damon plays a janitor at MIT who is a mathematical genius, but struggles to find his own identity.
  • Freedom Writers PG-13 (2007) A young English teacher is unprepared to teach a new high school class filled with students who would be lucky to graduate, but she ends up inspiring the at-risk students to want to learn, apply themselves, and even pursue education after high school.
  • Waiting for Superman: PG (2010) This documentary follows a few promising children through school and reviews the system of public education.

After seeing one of these films, be sure that you and your children discuss what you watched. Ask your children to identify what the main characters did right or wrong and to discuss how they would handle the same situations. Such discussions can be thoughtful, engaging experiences.

Next time you run out of ideas of what to do to keep your child engaged, pop in one of these movies and enjoy!

Educational Summer Fun!   Leave a comment

It’s the middle of summer, and many parents might be worried that their children are wasting their days surfing the internet, playing video games, or watching TV. Their fears are not unfounded. Summer learning loss is a prevalent issue, and causes students who do not engage in educational activities over the summer to lose at least two months of grade level equivalency.

Though summer learning loss is terrible, we feel that it’s possible for children to have fun during their summer vacations and still stay physically and mentally active. That’s why we’ve come up with this list of activities that parents can use to engage their students over the summer:

  1. Camping: Take your kids and their friends on an adventure in the woods overnight. Be sure to turn this into an educational trip. Brush up on local flora and fauna, and teach your kids a few things about nature.
  2. Reading: Take your students to the library or bookstore, and allow them to select books that interest them, no matter the genre. Start a book club for your kids and their friends. Think of fun, popular books they will enjoy, such as the Hunger Games, or Harry Potter series. After reading the books, suggest they watch the movies as well and compare the different versions.
  3. Outings: Take day trips to museums, zoos, space centers, and other educational centers. Many of these places offer student discounts. Make it a point to discuss what you saw with your child.
  4. Scavenger Hunts: Create fun and educational scavenger hunts for your kids. Use educational clues, math problems, or riddles that your children have to solve to get to the next spot of the scavenger hunt. Be sure to include a fun prize at the end of the hunt.

Each of these are fun ways to keep your child’s mind and body active throughout the rest of the summer. It also gives you an opportunity to spur your child’s intellectual growth. Use some (or all) of these great ideas to have fun with your kids while the summer is still here!


Overcoming Obstacles in South Carolina   Leave a comment

The Gifting Initiative is continuing to grow across the country! Thanks to the hard work of our staff and supporters, we are proud to announce that the initiative has expanded into several more school districts in South Carolina, increasing our reach and bringing the Overcoming Obstacles Life Skills Program to even more students.

Overcoming Obstacles has had a strong presence in South Carolina since 2011, when the Charleston County School District, which serves approximately 45,000 students, expanded its use of the program to all of its middle schools and high schools.

Jason Urbanski, our manager of educator outreach, has been flying in and out of South Carolina this month to attend workshops, conferences, and trainings to introduce new school districts to the program.

This past June, Jason joined Community for Education Foundation’s founder, Jill Siegal Chalsty, for the South Carolina Future Minds presentation at the South Carolina Association of School Administrators’ Innovative Ideas Institute. Future Minds, which focuses on bringing innovation to South Carolina’s schools, invited Jason and Jill to screen the 18-minute Overcoming Obstacles documentary and speak on the program’s curriculum materials, training, support, and implementation options. As a result, several superintendents expressed interest in enrolling in the Gifting Initiative.

Jason returned to South Carolina in July, this time to visit the Beaufort County School District’s Summer Institute, which included a district wide professional development day. There, Jason facilitated a training for educators from Beaufort Middle School and Whale Branch Middle School, two of our initiative partners. He also attended the South Carolina Education and Business Summit, where Paul Padron, principal of Haut Gap Middle School, and Mary Runyon, principal of West Ashley High School, gave a presentation about the successes that both of their schools are experiencing after implementing the Overcoming Obstacles Program.

We are proud of the positive effect that Overcoming Obstacles is having on South Carolina’s students, and look forward to working with all of our new district partners. Thanks to everyone who has helped spread the word about the program!

Good Citizenship   1 comment

Summertime presents a fantastic opportunity to help students understand the importance of community involvement and good citizenship. By allowing students to utilize their own positive strengths, values, and principles in helping their communities and neighbors, such involvement can boost students’ confidence and help them develop skills that will carry them throughout their lives.

It’s important for young people to get involved in community issues, whether big or small. The size of the project does not matter. What matters is that the students engage in such activities and leave their corner of the world a little better than when they entered it.

The internet is filled with sites that can connect students to volunteer opportunities. We’ve compiled the following list of resources for building good citizenship and keeping the young people in your life involved in their communities over the summer months:

The smallest actions can make a tremendous difference when it comes to helping others out. Whether you encourage the students in your life to volunteer at a local hospital or to donate clothes, we hope that you find these resources useful. Let’s celebrate the summer by being the best citizens we can!