Tormohlen: The real meaning of hope | AspenTimes.com

Tormohlen: The real meaning of hope

Tamara Tormohlen
Guest Column

Aspen Community Foundation, Board Photo, Mar. 13, 2014

What does hope mean to you?

The nationwide Gallup Student Poll, which surveyed some 875,000 U.S. students in 2014, found that only half of children in grades five through 12 describe themselves as hopeful. Similar percentages report that they're engaged in school. It would be easy to dismiss such numbers — it's just another poll, the kids aren't taking it seriously, etc. — but repeated studies have shown that hope is an indicator of both academic achievement and broader success in life.

For our youth, it turns out that "hopeful students see the future as better than the present and believe they have the power to make it so," wrote Shane Lopez, a Gallup senior scientist. "Hope, the ideas and energy for the future, is one of the most potent predictors of the success of our youth."

So, with that in mind, I'll share some of the results posted by some 2,000 Roaring Fork Valley students who took the Gallup poll in 2013 and 2014. Aspen Community Foundation's Cradle to Career Initiative aggregated this data, which show that local kids roughly mirror or narrowly exceed the national averages. In 2014, 57 percent of local respondents said they were hopeful, and 57 percent said they were engaged. These numbers were slightly better than the 2013 results.

Both nationally and locally, student engagement tends to decrease from fifth to 12th grade. Locally, 10th grade is the overall low point for hope and engagement, and many students seem to bounce back somewhat in their junior and senior years of high school.

Perhaps the more disturbing local trend is the gap separating Anglo students and Latino students. While 65 percent of Anglo students report feeling "hopeful," only 43 percent of Latinos do. A smaller gap separates the two groups in the realm of school engagement, again with the Latinos on the lower end.

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We need to do better.

There are many factors that influence a child's sense of hope. Hope is created when people identify where they want to go, what they want to accomplish and who they want to be. Children need to recognize the link between their current efforts and their future lives. They need to see the pathways to their goals, and they need to be supported along the way by family, schools and community.

Our local schools do a commendable job of supporting kids' social and emotional development in addition to providing the academic fundamentals. In addition, we have a wealth of youth-serving nonprofit organizations that provide enriching programs and help youth develop meaningful relationships with caring adults. This "whole child" philosophy — which is at the core of the Cradle to Career Initiative — is reflected in numerous offerings both in and out of school, from experiential and outdoor education to arts offerings to mentoring. In some schools, specifically Basalt Middle School and Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs, there are especially interesting things happening in the realm of hope, engagement and well-being.

The promotion of social-emotional curricula and programs that encourage the development of hope, grit, innovation, self-regulation and problem solving will help our region's youth to achieve their goals in and out of school. We'll explore some of these programs and other beacons of hope in the next installment of this column.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.

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