More about Diego and reaching out to disconnected youth

August 2, 2016

Dear Zenith News:

Thank you for acknowledging my forthcoming book, Diego: Agent of Change, in your June 21 edition of the Zenith [“The Achievement Gap”]. It is scheduled to be published late fall 2016. This book is not just about an individual’s poetry, but it is about a former student who was passionate about expressing a deep and profound need and a teacher’s passion to respond to it. It is focused on Diego’s story, a disconnected youth, as expressed through his poetry he dictated to me over a period of three years as he would enter my classroom during free times and read from scraps of paper he carried in his pocket.

His poetry reflects the inner struggles of a streetwise high school student who is seeking purpose and meaning in his life while experiencing the deep emotions of a disconnected youth. Diego’s words reflect the emotional impact of an individual striving to piece together his identity and search for truth and hope while experiencing a social and cultural divide. Diego represents the voices of past and present youth who identify with his situation, and his poetry is intended to create an awareness of the issue of disconnected youth and to stimulate a proactive movement in addressing much needed changes focused on resolving this problem, one student at a time. It is presented with hope that together we can all make the connection.

Every 26 seconds a student drops out of school in the United States. Why? As a military veteran and licensed teacher with 44 years of experience working with challenged youth and adults in the states of Washington, Colorado, Illinois, and Minnesota, my response to this statistic is basic and simple. Isn’t it time for we educators to examine our current method of delivery and begin to start adapting our instruction to fit the needs of our ever changing audience?  

Diego introduced his poetry by commenting, “My poems are a way to release anger and several other feelings. They are like a journal and I keep them in a notebook. If you read my notebook you will know me, the real me, and the truth about everything.” Diego’s message clearly implies that in order to be effective educators, it is imperative that we know our audience and their deep seated concerns and styles of learning. Establishing trusting relationships that are sustainable while providing culturally relevant curricula addressing the comprehensive needs of the recipients is critical. Research indicates that by the year 2020, 50 percent of all classrooms will be diverse with multicultural students. Are we ready?

Diego: Agent of Change has evolved into a dynamic collaborative service-learning project including students from Duluth’s elementary, middle, and high schools along with teachers and members of the community whose expressions are included in the chapter entitled “Hope.” Recommendations and suggested solutions are documented in the final chapter of this book. My approach is simplistic, positive, and proactive, founded upon authentic experiences that proved successful during my career as an educator.

Change requires dedication and unending motivation and I am a strong proponent of positive change that reflects the requests of those in need. You will not find negativity focused upon any individual or educational system in this book, but merely a vision focused upon hope and change for those who have entrusted us as educators in guiding them to discover themselves and what they have to offer.

I am inviting members of school boards, principals of elementary, middle, and high schools to engage in a conversation about the curriculum model addressing disconnected/disengaged youth and the proposed solutions described in this book. Additionally, I am ready to illustrate how adding $15,000 to a school budget, using current staff, can create a dynamic shift in service provision with a return on investment, manifesting in student engagement, retention, and increased graduation rates.

In closing, I wish to offer some clarity regarding one sentence found in the last paragraph on the front page of the newspaper. The correction is as follows: Original sentence: “Any revenue from the book will go into a college trust fund for Diego’s son, who is now in the sixth grade.” Correction: “Profits gained from the book will go into a post-secondary scholarship trust fund for Diego’s son, who is now in the sixth grade.” Front end publishing and marketing expenses will be paid out of sales revenue with realized profits to be deposited into the scholarship trust fund. Additionally, a trust fund address will be listed in the book for anyone who wishes to directly deposit funds into the account.

I would like to thank all active and future players involved in this project for supporting this cause by becoming active agents of change by promoting Diego’s message. A special thanks to reporter Brenna Jordan and the Zenith newspaper staff for introducing it to the Duluth community.

Howard D. Zmudy, M.Ed.

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