A typical day in balmy Thermal, California in August is approximately 120 degrees! That certainly must be how the name of this beautiful piece of America originated—Thermal is definitely warm! Prior to my first visit as a technical assistant for aha! Process, I had preconceived ideas of what a school with an extremely high poverty rate might look like. When I first saw the school campus in Coachella Valley USD, it was a breathtaking experience. Not only is the campus beautiful and state of the art, but the students and faculty are as warm and inviting as the environment.Nestled in the valley and surrounded by picturesque mountains are three campuses that house the beautiful children of Thermal. All of the teachers have been involved in Framework for Understanding Poverty training, and they are hungry for new ideas to reach the children that they teach and to prepare them for life in a middle class workplace. These teachers want to give these students a well-deserved “future story” like we talk about in the Framework training.

My most delightful visit was the day that the teachers asked me to teach a vocabulary lesson in their classrooms. I found the students eager to learn, respectful of the learning process, and motivated to achieve immediate success in school, as well as future success as contributing American citizens. I could actually see their minds open as I showed them how to use mental models to build vocabulary. The simple lesson on using sketching to build cognition with vocabulary was appreciated by students and teachers alike. To see evidence that this strategy had been put into practice when I returned for my next technical assistance visit brought a smile to my face, and I knew that change was beginning to take place.  Evidence of “sketching”, a vocabulary technique that I introduced in a previous visit, covered the walls of the classrooms that I visited.  Students would enthusiastically come up to me and say, “Miss, did you see my sketch?”  I had chills just watching these students transform before my eyes into more confident learners.  They were beginning to take ownership of their successes in the classroom.  The teachers, as well, were beginning to show that paradigm shift that Ruby Payne talks about.  They were beginning to see how mental models were cementing concepts for these students whose past experiences had been filled with limited building of cognitive capacity.  Sometimes change is painful; sometimes it is exciting; but it is ALWAYS life changing.   I shall take a piece of Coachella Valley USD with me all over America as I go into classrooms to share the message of aha! Process.

About the Consultant:

Patti Albright of Baytown, Texas has been an educator for thirty-one years. Patti taught kindergarten through junior school and she served as her campus language arts coordinator for the past 25 years. Patti also served as a district trainer in critical thinking skills, vocabulary strategies, effective questioning strategies, and curriculum writing. She worked with at-risk students and struggling readers for the duration of her teaching career and developed curriculum for the slow learner at the district level. Patti was named the 2005 Elementary Teacher of the Year and received the Amegy Bank Outstanding Campus Teacher of the Year in 2005. Patti has a husband and two children.