Unlocking the Dream


The advent of games like Escape Room and BreakoutEDU started around 2007 and their popularity has only kept growing. All across the USA, there are storefront Escape Room entertainment venues where groups of people pay to work collaboratively in order to solve a mystery and literally break out of a room.greenville-escape-room

They willingly agree to be locked in until they can accomplish the task together (or give up).

We all like mysteries, and we all like to work in groups.

So, building on these common interests, we created a new game called Unlock the Dream. Recently, it was at The Wells Fargo Center as part of a program called Field of Dreams run by Soul, Philadelphia’s indoor/arena football team, and Capital One Bank.

Wells Fargo Center

On one end of the field we set up the Dream Prism, a three sided structure with ten by five foot “walls” of flags on each side of it and banners on the top. There were flags from across the USA–Georgia, Alaska, Pennsylvania–and from around the world–Zambia, China, Haiti, and Macedonia. SIX HUNDRED in all. (Each line was carefully sewn and labeled by Dream Angel award winner Patrice Seko!)


And it held a mystery.

On the backs of five out of the 600 flags were bright green stickers with questions printed on them. Some required reading the flag carefully, some required finding the flag on the Dreamline site and looking at information about it there–such as student values–some required using the app or site to do some map reading about where the flag was from. One even required you to put your own hand on the flag to see what kind of hand print was on it.



If you got all five answers, wrote them on your game card, and brought them to the game table, you got to open the Unlock the Dream Box, get a sticker, and then choose a prize from the collection of Capital One or Philadelphia Soul swag–water bottles, towels, sunglasses, and so on.

But how were you supposed to find these flags with the questions?

That’s where our app and the game code came in. By entering the game code in the app, you would get a list of your five game flags. Those flags were somewhere in the group. Those flags had questions on the back. So search and find was part of the game too. Of course the app lists what school the flag was from so the labels on the lines could help, but it still took some careful looking.

What we found when groups of students with a parent or two in tow came to the game table was that 1) the parents loved it too 2) the kids were really good at finding the flags, and 3) they found much more than the flags.


When we set out to solve a mystery, when we move along any path to a destination–such as a dream–there are always surprises. There are always the unintended discoveries. And that’s what we saw first hand.

Students and parents alike started reading not just the flags they had to find, but others as well.

“What did the OTHER kids in Zambia dream of?”

“What were the values besides Team Spirit that inspired a ninth grader in Haiti to work for change?” ”

“What else besides football did a fifth grader in West Philadelphia want to see girls have access to for gender fairness?”

We could see them learning, exploring, and discovering together. And then solving a mystery to get a prize.

Prizes are fun, but we probably didn’t need them. It was clear that children and adults alike found the process rewarding and fun all by itself.


Unlocking a Dream in our lives can be a daunting task. But the beginning of it is realizing you’re not the only one who has a dream. It’s part of being human. Moving toward understanding other people’s dreams is a critical part of understanding, declaring, and acting on our own dreams.

And then we’re unlocking something so much bigger than a room. We’re really breaking out together!


Download and print UnlockTheDream-Questions – Wells Fargo July 2018, 

Use phone with a free QR CODE READER to find what students discovered at Wells Fargo.

The prize is in the finding!


Paying Attention: the “Inside Selfie”

We talked about paying attention to the inside–that each Dreamline and Value flag helps focus our own attention on the inside–what we value, what we dream, what we plan. And we talked about how the inside is more important than the outside–in friendship, in family, in everything we do with other people.

“Zip!” “Zap! “Zop!!”

On Monday of the last full week of  the school year, I stood before 2nd graders at the Lab Charter School at 59th and Woodbine in West Philadelphia and we played Zip, Zap, Zop. Paying attention to which way to point–right for Zip, left for Zap–was a challenge but it got better as we went along.


Because of the support of those who support programs that build student motivation at the Queen’s Jubilee Education Fund of The Philadelphia Foundation, I was able to not only work with students to help them articulate their values and dreams, but also to do follow up analysis and study of the patterns of those elements across grades, gender, and other factors, in order to guide the school toward resources that meet the motivational needs of their students.


Through the week on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I worked with students and co-taught with their teachers to help them think about what a value is, choose some that matter, and make a Value Flag.


Then I asked them to think about the world we live in, the dreams we have of how it could be, and the ways we can move toward those dreams. At least with 5th graders. Kindergarteners created an acrostic out of the word “DREAM” with words close to the heart.


And the theme that emerged from these discussions, from the pressure of getting all of this done by Friday for “the big reveal” was paying attention.

Paying attention to THEM.


Lab Charter serves a population in West Philadelphia that does not always get a lot of attention, though their teachers are devoted, their principals are tireless and their group leadership from CEO Stacey Cruise has been visionary. The school sits between areas of affluence and economic need. The facility is not ideal, according to their principal and teachers, but they make do. Their revenue per student is just over half of the state average, and all of their students qualify for school lunch without fee.

What we talked about a lot that week was how it matters what we pay attention to.


Just the week before we started work at Lab, as it is known, I spoke with a representative of Capital One bank which has a bank cafe in my neighborhood. Kevin Moore affirmed that values and community are what Capital One cares about. He aksed us to invite students from Lab to a special event in July called Field of Dreams at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center to meet and interact with players from Philadelphia Soul, the Arena Football team of Philadelphia–AND to display the Lab Dreamline and Value Flags as part of an installation of our Unlock The Dream game to be included as part of the event activities.


So I could tell the students that Capital One and the many people attending their event — would be paying attention to what THEY had to say on their flags.

But there was more about paying attention.

We talked about paying attention to the inside–that each Dreamline and Value flag helps focus our own attention on the inside–what we value, what we dream, what we plan. And we talked about how the inside is more important than the outside–in friendship, in family, in everything we do with other people.

And finally, that each flag is, in modern terms, a “selfie” of the INSIDE–a snapshot of one child’s heart and values at one moment to share with the community and with the world.

Look and listen to these “inside selfies.”

From a Kindergartener


From a 2nd Grader


From  one 5th Grader:


From  another 5th Grader:


In our celebration Friday, we heard their voices as you can here– and all of them on our site. Because of the tireless work of the teachers, each and every one of these flags was put up on Dreamline with a voice recording of the student–no mean feat on the last week of school. But the teachers were paying attention.

6-8-18 INVIT
invitation to the celebration

We gathered on the sunlit grass on their last Friday of school and teacher-selected students read their Dreamline flags in front of a display with each and every flag blowing in the breeze. Parents joined along with school administration. We could hear how aware they are of the hard realities of their world–even at age 8–and that they are determined to make things better.



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And that’s news–that’s something to pay attention to–that each of us needs to hear.

For more information on the Laboratory Charter Schools, visit  http://thelaboratorycharterschool.com

Look for future blog posts for more information on the specifics of this grant and the analytic work under way based on student-created Dreamline and Value Flags.

May 5: The Real Story

… and this is what our world needs– for all of us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, connecting one heart to another, and acting to make our dreams take shape.

Last week, at The National Constitution Center on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, USA, more than 1,000 flags hung across the 90 foot floor to ceiling windows, around the 200 foot balcony rail, and across the pipe framework set up just for them and for the dreams they carried.

Last week hundreds of students, teachers, mothers, fathers, principals, administrators, and friends gathered to celebrate those dreams and what they stand for.


Last week, volunteers arrived very early to set up tables, put out markers, organize games, create group art, connect the technology, staff the registration desk, and do whatever it took to make this happen for everyone from 11:00 am EST to 1:00 pm.

And then it all came down. Flags packed, some left as Travel Flags for the coming year, tables cleared, flag display nets down, hooks and suction cups removed, bags loaded out, and volunteers off to a well deserved lunch.

But the real story I learned started way way before all that.

To me, the real story started in Dallas, Texas with Candice Lindsay, an art teacher who found out about this program based in Philadelphia for kids sharing dreams.

Her school is located in central Dallas and serves children from 4 to 11 years old. Most of them walk to school. Most of them speak Spanish as well as English. Almost all of them qualify for a free lunch at school, an important part of their daily nutrition. Their principal is Alberto Herrera, and he understands this group. I met him when we all went out to dinner the Friday before the “big event” on Saturday.

For me, meeting Alberto Herrera, the principal, meeting Mike Daleo the PE teacher, and once again meeting Candice Lindsay, the art teacher and dream booster, as well as Shannon Kline the first grade teacher and Social and Emotional Learning Campus Champion–was the big event. For me, learning their story was more powerful than a thousand thousand flags of dreams.

Mike, Candice, Shannon, and Alberto ( left to right) at Eakins Oval in Philadelphia

A few weeks before I had had the privilege of standing before the whole school and community guests at the culminating program of Ecole Nouvelle Zorange in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I told the students that anybody can have a dream, but it takes hard work to make it real.

These educators from Dallas and their community were the example to me of the hard work to make it real.

When I met with them on Friday, I found out how they had started working last September with the Parent and School committee to show their students, each one of them, that their dreams matter.

That group organized school movie night –every week. For $3 you could come to the school on a Friday evening, bring a pillow, sit on the floor of the gym, pay a little more for some popcorn, and watch a family friendly movie projected on the wall. You could watch the same movie at home, but it wouldn’t be the same.

And so they started raising money to send each one of their 650 flags with dreams and 4 of their teachers to represent them in Philadelphia. That’s a lot of $3 contributions.

3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 . . .

In about January, Candice Lindsay started making hand stamped Dream Bracelets resembling like this.

For each one, often while the child watched, she would custom stamp the letters D R E A M into the metal of a washer connected to a colorful band that the student would wear. And she sold each for $5. She made about 500 of them, each by request. That’s 2,500 hand stamped letters in metal. She said her arm got tired sometimes.

Between these two efforts, and the effort of the school to have each and every one of their students create a flag for their dreams, the vision–the dream of bringing those dreams to Philadelphia, to make them and the community of Ansom Jones part of something bigger than themselves–started to take shape.

And at about 9 am on Saturday, May 5th, the team of four dedicated educators started the work of installing those dreams for all to see across the floor to ceiling window 90 feet long that faced the mall ending with the building where the USA started, Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

They filled that window, all 90 feet of it, so that, looking out to Independence Mall, you saw a wall of dreams that knew no bounds, that travelled from Texas to Philadelphia to shout out that this is what independence is all about, this is what the USA is about at its best, and this is what our world needs– for all of us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, connecting one heart to another, and acting to make our dreams take shape.

That’s a story I won’t forget and will keep on telling and building as you join me in the effort.

How fitting for Cinco de Mayo and Independence Hall, and every dreamer who aligns their values to their actions anywhere in the world.

Thank you, Ansom Jones Elementary!

What’s Behind a Dream?

While our dreams in life will change as we grow and our circumstances shift, when we align our evolving dreams to our values, they provide the ballast, the permanence, that’s critical for a steady course–now and in the future.

“The values and the dreams are in an alignment for a better tomorrow.”

–Gregory Mevs

On Friday I got my first tour of the school. I have been a teacher for 30 years, and I have an immediate sense when walking into a school if there’s respect and care. That was in the air at Ecole Nouvelle Zorange, and I could sense it the second I set foot out of the car with Christelle who brought me there.

Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 4.04.10 PM

See on Google Maps

This school, situated on the edge of Cité Soleil, arguably one of the largest urban settlements of extreme poverty anywhere, serves 570 students from ages 5 to 17, and was established by the Prodev Foundation and the vision of its founder Maryse Pénette-Kedar. She formed the school in the wake of the devastating earthquake of 2010 to help rebuild Haiti by focusing on help that will last–education.

Christelle and I sat with the teachers from the 5th and 9th grades with whom we’d be working next week. The Talking Dream Line did its work just as it had in Jacmel, and with Christelle’s extremely able help, we collaborated on a plan for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the next week.

And on Monday we began–first with the 5th graders. We started with the present. Between my fractured French and Christelle’s ability to explain not just what I wanted to say but what I ought to say, we had a great time with a game I call Zip, Zap, Zop and they call Biff. Baff, Buff. If you hesitate and “loose” you had to tell me something you like–so we could get to know each other.

Biff, Baff, Buff, I explained, is about paying attention to right now. Our Dreamline program is about focusing on now AND on the future–what we dream of.

5th Haiti Talk Flags
5th Graders loved the talking Dreamline.

They got that the flags were the same size because we’re all equal. They got that they’re connected to a line because we need each other. And they got that kids everywhere, not just Haiti, not just Philadelphia, have dreams for the future. And that was it — until the next day.

Fast forward to the 9th graders, all 35 of them, and their teacher M. Donasson who, before I arrived, had already started working with the students. After a quick intro and look at a map showing places in the world where students have already declared and shared dreams on fabric, we moved right into what’s behind our dreams–values.

M. Donnasson had already worked with the group to brainstorm this list of values.


9th graders have already been studying English for more than 2 years, so I added a language component by translating the French words into English.

Then Mr. Donasson gave a simple direction: “Choose three.” Choose three values from this list that mean a lot to you, that are values you live by, or want to live by. Write them on a flag. Decorate it. Hold it up.


I have worked with students in the process of sharing dreams continuously since 2003, and my work had extended to more than 120,000 students across 36 countries, including 42 states of the USA. But I had never tried this.

It was, in fact, the brainchild of a non-teacher, Gregory Mevs, who is Co-Chair of the Haitian West Indies Group and General Honorary Consul to Haiti. He helped us come to Haiti, and it was he who suggested that we might try Value Flags as an addition to our program. He’s very interested in values and the power that comes from action aligned to those values.

It worked. The Value Flags were an easy but powerful first step in thinking about a dream–a VALUE BACKED dream!

When we completed the project, the Value Flags were stapled, literally back to back, with the Dreamline flags to remind the students and everyone who saw it that dreams backed by values create a lasting and powerful force. And when we align them around the world, a force that can cause cause change as we perhaps have never seen.

In the words of Gregory Mevs, “The values and the dreams are in an alignment for a better tomorrow.”

As we move through life, our dreams can and should change, but our values remain more constant. By giving students the tangible experience of creating a Value Backed Dream, we give them a tool for learning an important lesson. While our dreams in life will change as we grow and our circumstances shift, when we align our evolving dreams to our values, they provide the ballast, the permanence, that’s critical for a steady course–now and in the future.

So stepping up to dreams through values was pedagogically sound–verified by both 5th and 9th graders in Haiti–and a brand new development of our program, an articulation of what has always been there behind every flag declaring a dream–the values that shine through aspiration and action.

Here’s what 5th and 9th graders at Ecole Nouvelle Zorange value–what I’d call a value portrait of the classes. The larger the word, the more students chose it for the value behind their dream.

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