Impact Project

I currently teach fifth grade humanities. What this means is that the subjects that are covered are numerous, they overlap, they collide, and they require students to ponder and question. They examine global history from the 1400’s to 1865, and learn to write, read and understand nuances of language. They also take part in a service learning component called an Impact Project.

Learning About the Issues

This year I decided to challenge my fifth graders (9 – 11 yrs old) to take a deeper look at issues facing our world. I want them to become experts and find ways to implement solutions. My hope is that they will dive in, explore and find a way to make a positive difference. But first, they needed to get an idea of what is considered a ‘big issue.’ So over the course of several weeks we exploerd six big topics: endangered animals, climate change, food insecurity, water scarcity, plastic pollution and education disparity. The students have watched clips of videos and TED talks, analyzed articles, participated in simulations and held roundtable discussions. They are now beginning their independent work. Over the course of the next nine weeks they will research and explore their issue. There are benchmark check-ins to discuss challenges and frustrations with me. They will also be blogging (internally) and learning to podcast. In December they will present their findings and a proposal for how they plan to make an impact. Then January through May they will implement (so exciting!). In late May, after writing a persuasive essay on their topic, they will then present their topic, TED Talk style, to parents and administrators explaining the outcome of their project and impact.

Making an Impact Close to Home

Hands on WallTo give them a taste of giving back here at home, I introduced them to a public school about 20 minutes down the road. This school has a population made up of primarily new immigrants. They speak Farsi, Dari, Ukranian, Russian, Spanish and others. Even though many speak limited English, I thought it would be fun to start a pen pal exchange. And while we were at it, a Gently Used Clothing Drive. My students were so excited to not only be able to help, but to also reach out and start a conversation. A week ago we took our gently used clothes and headed over to the other school, and met our new friends.

After eating lunch together we pushed up our sleeves and started putting hands in paint and soon a colorful wall of friendship emerged. A bit chaotic, but I saw lots of smiles. Over the rest of the year, the students will exchange letters with their pen pals and then in May we’ll have the kids come to our school for a field day of fun games.

Impact Project

While discussing one of the big issues, ‘why girls have Educate Girls 4 Successmore barriers to education than boys in many countries around the world,’ one of my female students asked a very innocent, yet difficult to answer, question. We had just watched a short video clip “Why Educate Girls?” and she raised her hand and asked, “Why aren’t girls going to school? We are just as smart and capable as boys.” So matter-of-fact, with zero hesitation. At first I struggled to find an answer that was appropriate for a class of ten year olds. I stumbled and grasped at ideas as I tried to rationalize the issue. Finally, it dawned on me that this was exactly what I was hoping they would ponder – these questions that are so difficult to answer. So, I threw it back to the class. “Why do you think there is education disparity?”

At first there was a lot of, “Well, because…” and then their voices would trail off. It was hard to come up with a legitemate argument. But eventually there were some responses around religions or cultural customs or physical strength etc. It’s a tough question.

I know many of the questions they will ask will be unanswerable, no matter what the topic of focus. But my hope is that even without an exact answer, they are inspired to make positive change, to take action and make their voices heard.

Educate Girls

Interested in helping girls get an education? Here are four, of many, amazing organizations you can support:

Impact
Red Sweater Project: www.redsweaterproject.org Friends of Pimpollo: http://friendsofpimpollo.org/ Educate Girls: https://www.educategirls.ngo/ One Girl: https://www.onegirl.org.au/

 

Hope Through Action

Hello Again.

September is here and it is finally starting to cool off a bit in Sacramento!  While my issue with crazy hot weather has bothered me like a persistent fly this summer, it pales in comparison to what is happening in our world.  My heart goes out as I see devastation across our continent from raging fires to catastrophic hurricanes, to an 8+ earthquake.  Reading through the front section of the New York Times yesterday and today, it felt like the world was coming to an end.  Then, drop in the latest humanitarian focus on the Myanmar Rohingya, and the famine in northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen was enough to make me want to cry and crawl under a blanket.  It felt beyond bleak.

But then I remembered what happened on Friday at my school.

I am piloting a year-long service learning project with my fifth graders this year. Our foci are the environment and hunger.  While I am bringing in quite a few speakers to help inspire my students over the course of this year, the first was a representative from the Climate Reality Project; this is Al Gore’s NGO that is working very hard to spread the belief that climate change is a reality and there are things each and every one of us can do to make a change – today.  Christine Flowers was our presenter and she spoke to about 90 third through fifth graders.  She used big concepts, but brought them down to a level that our curious young students could relate too.  We ended with a drawing project on how they could each make a change to help the planet.

My students returned to class jazzed to work on developing our plans to make a difference.

Then, last night, I had the great pleasure of attending a fundraising event for the Red Sweater Project.  Ashley Holmer is the founder of this amazing organization that is transforming education in rural Tanzania.  With only 27% of Tanzanian students passing the exam to graduate from high school across the country, the Mungere school started by the Red Sweater Project has a pass rate of 100%.  These kids are the rural poor with little chance for an education.  But because this young woman is dedicated to making a change, they now have a chance to make a change.

So, while the world is in upheaval and I find myself heavy and feeling stuck with where and how to help, I am determined to remember (and to not stand idle) that there is good in this world and good people working to make positive strides for a better, more supportive and caring world.

Here’s to action and hope!

Gretchen