A Disciplined Life: One Powerful Idea, Fueled By Two Passionate Women, Creates A Better Future For Students

Want to understand the power of a good idea, implemented with passion, to create a better future for thousands of young people? A visit to the Math & Science Academy, one of the Perspectives Charter Schools on the South Side of Chicago, will make it easy for you.

In the early 1990s, two young Chicago Public School teachers, Kim Dixon and Diana Shulia-Cose, yearned to find a system that assured a better future for the non-selective students in the CPS system that they taught. So they developed a set of principles, called “A Disciplined Life” (ADL), and designed a curriculum and classroom management style around them.

ADL principles build a culture of success and address each student as a whole person, understanding that character growth and academic progress are interdependent. Here’s how the principles breakdown into three categories:

Self Perception

• Accept only quality work from yourself
• Take responsibility for your actions
• Seek wisdom
• Be open-minded
• Think critically and be inquisitive
• Love who you are
• Demonstrate honesty, integrity, and decency
• Be ge nerous
• Be a life-long learner
• Live a healthy lifestyle


• Communicate effectively
• Challenge each other intellectually
• Show gratitude
• Solve conflicts peacefully
• Respect each other’s differences
• Be positive and supportive of each other
• Show compassion


• Demonstrate a strong work ethic
• Use your time wisely
• Listen actively
• Be punctual and prepared
• Be organized
• Be reflective
• Be reliable
• Take initiative
• Demonstrate perseverance

In 1993, with a $1,000 grant, Dixon and Shulia-Cose opened a small “school within a school” that successfully implemented A Disciplined Life (ADL) for 45 students. Four years later, they opened Perspectives, one of the first charter schools authorized by the State Of Illinos, based on ADL. The average ACT scores of the students went up by an average of 2 points per year.

Their success continued to breed more success and Perspectives has now grown to five schools on three campuses. These schools have the capacity to serve 2,600 students in grades 6-12.

That’s 2,600 urban students whose average ACT scores could have been 14-17, and whose post-high-school future could have been bleak. Instead, they will develop technical skills or go to college with the intellectual tools that insure a hopeful future.

Two women, one good idea, 2,600 lives made better each year.

Those numbers are so intriguing that Make it Better joined a group of North Shore residents on a recent visit to the newest Perspectives school, the Math & Science Academy, to learn more. College banners decorated the hallways. ADL principles covered classroom walls. Students proudly wore their “Second Quarter Honor Roll” t-shirts or gray-collared school uniform shirts. We learned that Perspectives students achieve excellence through academic rigor, are remarkably well-mannered, and participate with great pride in community service activities.

Josh, a lanky ninth grader from the far South Side, greeted every visitor with a firm handshake, a warm smile and a full-name introduction. Of his future, he said, “I plan to go to USC to major in business and maybe play basketball. I want to open a restaurant with my brother and be an entrepreneur.”

Shulia-Cose radiated the kind of passion that inspires others to help. That’s good news, because Perspectives still has considerable fundraising to do. “We only need $5 million to insure the five schools have a solid and sustainable future,” explained the tall, stylish blond.

Evidence that ADL principles can help young people develop into successful adults who use the principles of pay-it-forward can be found on the Perspectives Web site, www.perspectivescs.org.

Veronika Hayes, a graduate of the program, said, “I can’t help but reflect on the accomplishments I have attained because of ADL. I just finished my two-year commitment to Teach for America in Baltimore. I make it my business to instill many of these principles in my own students. They are simple things that lead a person to success.”

During the visit, I found myself wanting to rush home and post the ADL principles on our walls, hoping they have a similarly positive influence on my own family. Make it Better posts them here with appreciation for and awe of all that two committed teachers have accomplished, and with best wishes that these principles continue to make a difference in an ever-widening circle.

If you know of other inspiring stories or codes of living, e-mail them to us.

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