Challenges of Unlimited Potential

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Learning About Learning after-school program poster. Emphasizes children's innate creativity. 

Unlimited Potential began at a time of great change in American society. School integration was a key issue, which a 1970 Supreme Court ruling, United States v. Texas, sought to address by integrating the remaining schools. The court's decision was hampered by further legal battles and poor enforcement by the Texas Education Agency, which has caused integration to remain a problem to this day. Beyond racial tensions, there were difficulties in implementing Unlimited Potential and its community involvement programs. 

In the teacher training programs, teachers expressed anxiety about a lack of control that they associated with creative learning. Teachers indicated concern that administrators and other teachers would judge them for having an ‘out of control’ class environment if they implemented ideas from the program. Even though teachers’ opinions evolved over the course of the training, their stress regarding control and standardization reveals the assembly-line nature of education in the 1970s.

Through internal evaluation reports on teacher training programs and years of practical experience, it was discovered that teachers suffer from loneliness. They felt they were in a battle with the students and administrators, which resulted in sectioning off teaching from the rest of their being. This separation of spheres hampered the teacher's ability to connect with their students and meet each of their specific needs.

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Imagination Workshop at the Trinity University theatre in 1979. An action shot of creative learning through theatre with Julia Jarrell and her students. 

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Graph that shows U.S. inflation from 1960-2010. Peaked in the early 1980s at 14%. 

The peaceful resolution of Unlimited Potential was accelerated by economic circumstances in the early 80s. High levels of inflation began in the mid-1960s and culminated in a recession in the early 80s. Accompanying inflation was rising unemployment which peaked at 11% in 1982. High unemployment, inflation, and stagnant demand, known as stagflation, caused Unlimited Potential to lose its largest grant, Profitable Thinking, from the Department of Commerce. Unlimited Potential closed its doors with no outstanding debts; however, it left an incredible legacy of youth liberal arts education in San Antonio. 

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Learning About Learning program focused on creative problem-solving. The Idea Workshop was for children ages 3-12.

The most challenging, and important, aspect of Unlimited Potential and its community programs was getting the community on board. Without a connection to the community, the Unlimited Potential team would be perceived as outsiders who could not be trusted. 

Unlimited Potential combatted this by excelling in community involvement. They visited students’ houses to connect with their families, met with important members of the community and schools, and even held street classes! 

The team quickly discovered that middle-class and underserved communities did not necessarily share the same value systems. Value systems are determined by environmental factors, therefore the Spanish-speaking child of Mexican cultural heritage might not respond to the middle-class, English-speaking, Anglo-American-oriented classroom.  Community involvement was an excellent way to begin understanding how to teach students with different values. 

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Section from Unlimited Potential of Learning, which was used to analyze phase 1 on Unlimited Potential (teacher training). Highlights the importance of values in education systems.