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Seeds of Success

Tulsa Public School district is taking a new approach, equipping students with tools to achieve success in and out of the classroom.
September 22, 2023
Black boy doing some gardening, picking green leaf's from a plant
Seeds of Success | Freethink

A video by media company Freethink shows how Tulsa Public Schools is empowering students to draw connections from their studies to personal interests, creating better learners.


Milton Hamilton: I started to completely hate school, because I already knew the thing they were about to tell me. But right now I'm a little bit more interested because I realize I can learn something new.

Elmer Thomas: For Monroe, it's important that we encourage our kids to want to be here at school, and find something of themselves here.

Robert Kaiser: Really engage students in learning that isn't necessarily always tied to a textbook but ways in which they can get really hands-on learning. 

Milton Hamilton: Gardening wasn't one of the things I thought of. Now that I can see that plants can do some very weird stuff, I want to see if there could be a weird herb that can cure cancer for all we know.

Caroline Shaw: There are absolutely without question critical foundational academic skills that are the bread and butter of a school district. But woven within that is also the ability for young people to be determinants of their own future, to be able to discover their own passions and interests. So we really feel like that is as much a part of our job as the ABCs and one two threes if you will.

Milton Hamilton: In my opinion, for some reason, a lot of people who actually like farming, most of them were introverts. As a certain introvert myself, I always like gardening because it was calming, and all you hear is just nature. 

Robert Kaiser: Our goal is always here at Monroe to try and create the most fulfilling, richest experience that kids can have when they come to school. This gives them the opportunity to really broaden their horizons 

Narrator: Tulsa principal Robert Kaiser supports developing social-emotional skills both in and outside the classroom. These are important life skills, like working with others, setting and achieving goals, and approaching challenges optimistically. 

Robert Kaiser: Finding something that a student really values helps not only with grades in it, but also attendance and coming to school and being excited about the work that we do. 

Narrator: Milton discovered a passion for agriculture when his middle school partnered with Food on the Move, a non-profit that uses urban gardening, hydroponics, and aquaponics to feed the community. Milton's new interest also provided a place to hone his leadership, cooperation, and communication skills. 

Milton Hamilton (showing his work to others in a gardening facility): Yeah, we actually just grabbed a specific panel lift it pull it back a tiny bit. These guys are also hard to cut sometimes, especially because they have massive roots. Weigh them, bag them up, and then we give them to Catholic charities or one of our events.

Elmer Thomas: It’s one thing to talk about theory, about what's going in the classroom. But when you actually get to see it in action, that's what really makes the learning solidify in our students’ minds.

Milton Hamilton: My grades went up in science and P.E. With hydroponics, you gotta mix the right amount of chemicals into the water to feed the plants. 

Narrator: At Monroe, after school and summer programs like Food on the Move, serve as ripe environments for social-emotional skills to be developed and strengthened. 

Robert Kaiser: For Milton, he was able to explore an opportunity that led him to this now internship where he's building skills and a resume that will only take him further in life.

Teacher at Council Oak Elementary School (speaking to students): Hey, whose name's on your paper? Go tell them good morning. 

Narrator: Developing these skills at an early age can benefit students in their careers and in life. Caroline Shaw works at Tulsa School District, where she helps ensure these opportunities begin to be available for even the youngest students. 

Caroline Shaw: These are really concrete skills that we can all build throughout our lifetime. Things like the ability to be able to get along with one another, to regulate your emotions, to empathize. One of the tools that all young people in Tulsa Public Schools’ elementary school settings have is what we call a mood meter. It's a very simple, color-coded grid that allows young people to reflect on how they're feeling in the moment and how they might be wanting to feel.

Teacher at Council Oak Elementary School (speaking to students): What do we feel if we're grouchy? What color are we in? What zone? Do we have high energy or low energy? 

Students: High.

Teacher: High energy, right. And are we  pleasant or are we not so pleasant? Not pleasant. So these are some strategies that can help us move back down.

Caroline Shaw: So it's not just that I'm frustrated or mad or I don't like you. It's I have tools to get to the place where I am my best self. Young people are learning all the time. Learning doesn't stop when they go home from school or when summer break starts. And as much as we know about these skills being really important, for even the youngest learners, to develop and us to foster. It becomes really even more critical in high school.

Teona Neills (Milton’s mother): Hey pumpkin. How was your day?

Milton Hamilton: Um, pretty good.

Teona Neills: What do you bring today? 

Milton Hamilton: Uh, peppers tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumber 

Teona Neills: We'll surprise the rest of the children with your goodies. Come on.

Teona Neills: I'm glad that you're still so active and that you actually accepted that job from the Guardian Club, because, you know, you weren't really very social. 

Milton Hamilton: Still not 

Teona Neills: Still not. But look how much you can open up and help people now. You don't have no problem with doing it. 

Milton Hamilton: I can at least talk to people now 

Teona Neills: You do, and I'm glad. I'm proud of you, because the older you get, I told you, you have to learn how to socialize and network.

Robert Kaiser: For Milton, I think Food on the Move was an opportunity in which he was able to really explore his passion and really explore what he enjoyed doing, and it gave him a pathway. 

Elmer Thomas: He found a niche here where people appreciated what he had to say and he had confidence in telling people about it. That's what the program's about. 

Caroline Shaw: These are really critical components of developing those productive citizens and members of our Tulsa Community that know and care about one another, and that are prepared to really engage and be active in their own success and in the success of our city overall. 

Elmer Thomas: Social-emotional learning is important in school. We need to teach it to our parents so that they can use some of these same techniques and thought processes at home. Emotions are an important part of being a human. That's often the thing that we kind of neglect over achievements and accomplishments. When we're able to recognize where we are emotionally, we're able to see our better selves and have better opportunities to do well.

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