Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Let's Change the World

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

What did your students do last week?  

Our students helped to change the world.

On November 23rd and 24th, 2015, East Greenwich High School halted the traditional schedule of classes in order to provide our students with an opportunity to work autonomously with expert mentors and decision makers to initiate organizations and projects centered on empowering them to make positive changes to their sphere of influence hopefully scaling their projects and ideas locally, nationally and worldwide through our Choose2Matter/MakeItMatterEG program. 

Over 40 leaders, experts and decision makers from around the state and the country came to EGHS to act as sounding boards, facilitators, mentors and partners as our students projects moved from the realm of thought to action. Approximately 600 students were actively involved in the two-day event. 

Why Is This Important (beyond, you know, changing the world...)?
  • Students worked on projects that engaged their hearts and minds. These projects provide real-world relevance for the content learning that they do in classrooms every day. No one asked, "When am I going to use this?" even once over the two days.
  • Everyone tells us that the 21st century workplace will require so much more than content knowledge and basic skills. MakeItMatterEG required students to take initiative and responsibility to address the things that mattered to them most. Doing so built their confidence, required them to solve problems, to work in teams, and to communicate ideas to individuals, small and large groups. Students did so through a variety of formats and media, providing them many opportunities to develop speaking and presentation skills as well as experience in accepting questions and criticism to help develop and manage projects.
  • Teachers were able to work alongside students who shared common interests and passions. Working with active, engaged students doing personally meaningful work, and in many cases, taking a back seat and learning from their students created many teachable and learnable moments for all members of our school community. It's also fun to learn more about our students and identify with them in a completely different way.
  • Having an amazing list of mentors who took days out of their own busy schedules and responsibilities to work with our students helped our kids really learn how to interact with leaders and organizations, as well as develop valuable networking contacts for the future.
What's most exciting is that several of these projects are scalable on a much larger level and may become national model programs moving forward

Here are some of the outcomes that have been presented during the course of the two days, and while this should not be considered a comprehensive list, they should provide you with an understanding of the impact of this empowering experience.

Roomz Without Walls: A student initiated and led group, whose mission is to create a community to lessen the trauma of extended hospital stays for children through creativity, technology and kid2kid relationships. This concept inspired and has been picked up by Daniel A. O'Neil, Head of Innovation at the Mayo Clinic who will be working with the group going forward.

Another offshoot group, designed and is continuing to work on a series of coloring/activity books featuring original artwork, poetry, puzzles and games to help occupy young people who are hospitalized. This group has already procured an ISBN number through Amazon and intends to sell these books online, with all profits used to defray the cost of providing these books to hospitalized children for free.

LGBQT+ Health Curriculum: Another student initiated and led group’s mission is to create an inclusive Sex-Ed Curriculum for the High School that could become a model for other schools nation-wide. The goal is to help foster and develop an environment where all students, especially those in the 15% of students who comprise the LGBQT+ community, feel accepted

The EGHS Radio Network: A student initiated and led radio station that utilizes live, on air newscasts of student announcements and lively interviews in an NPR-like format on “The Frequency” to inform and entertain the school community. Broadcasts are archived in a podcast form for easy retrieval. http://mixlr.com/eghsradionetwork/showreel/

Mentorally Prepared:  A student initiated and led group, whose mission is to help ease the transition of freshmen and new students to the High School. By providing student mentors, Mentorally Prepared will facilitate understanding of all aspects of student life at EGHS as well as provide new students with a safe, welcoming and supportive group of peers.

The Backpack Project: A student initiated and led group, whose mission is to supply homeless men, women, and children with personal care and safety products by distributing backpacks containing  Water, Blanket, Food, Flashlights, Toothbrushes and Toothpaste, Hand Sanitizer, First Aid Kits, Winter Clothes, Socks and Shoes/Boots, Toys, Books, Feminine Supplies, Deodorant and Gift Cards to the homeless.  http://backpackprojecteghs.weebly.com/

Operation Holiday Cheer: A student initiated and led group, whose mission is to provide customized care packages to soldiers overseas. They have made arrangements for the shipping and receiving through General John Michel, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer and President, MV Global at MV Transportation and have connected through the United Way for fundraising logistics as well.

Real Girls Matter: A student initiated and led group, whose mission is to positively impact women’s lives locally and globally through education and advocacy.  The group has already purchased bicycles for young women in Africa who live 20 or more miles from schools without transportation.  In addition, they have spoken to middle and elementary school children about how marketing and media create unhealthy body image ideals for women through the use of photoshop and celebrity culture, and they are developing a statewide conference for young women interested in becoming leaders in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They also regularly publish articles in local media highlighting inspirational women in the community who would be good role models for young women.

East Greenwich Water Project: A student initiated and led group, whose mission is to help end the water shortages in Kenya by raising money to fund a well that can supply clean water for an entire community.  They are partnered with  thewaterproject.org, who have the resources to build the well.  https://www.gofundme.com/egwaterproject

Planting Change Seed by Seed: A student initiated and led group, whose mission is to develop a community garden that could begin growing fresh fruits and vegetables for use in school lunches as well as provide composting material for landscaping at the school and in the community. Their goals would include teaching students of all ages to care for the environment and promote healthy eating habits.

Pencils with Purpose:  A student initiated and led group, whose mission is to organize book drives, school supply drives/school store and fundraising to provide academic resources for low-income students in the US and to provide books to libraries in foreign countries as well as to provide tutoring help to those less fortunate areas through the use of technology.

Lit for the Less Fortunate: A student initiated and led group, whose mission is to raise money to buy high-interest books for those who cannot afford them in inner city schools and juvenile correction facilities.  https://www.gofundme.com/b3bu6wfn

Crossing the Street: A student initiated and led group, whose mission is to create connections between Meeting Street School children and public schools throughout the state (beginning with EGHS). This undertaking will begin with Meeting Street School students visiting our school’s summer sports camps for immersive activities with our athletes and young people from the community who will be attending camps. Going forward, the group will work towards finding more opportunities to connect Meeting Street School and public high schools throughout the state, as well as to raise funds for Meeting Street school children to participate in activities and experiences they would otherwise not be able to. 

SHOMORA (Shovel, Mow and Rake): A student initiated and led group, whose mission is to develop an Uber-like application and website that would allow people in the community (though primarily marketed towards elderly citizens) to easily locate and schedule snow removal or landscaping work that would be provided by students at a low cost, with ratings and feedback from customers available for each contractor.

In addition, other groups included students seeking to improve:

the infrastructure of the school:
  • recycling initiatives
  • improving bathrooms
  • quiet rooms for students under temporary stress
  • improved mental health advocacy and understanding
the curricula
  • development of an independent learning course for students
  • having multiple foreign languages available K-12
  • adding self defense as part of the PE curricula
  • development of a philosophy course
and the community at large:
  • developing a K-12 time capsule for all EG students
  • ways to welcome/support Syrian refugees locally
  • development of media to alert students and parents to the dangers of vaping
  • a first-time fishing trip for students not accustomed to outdoor activities
  • coral reef preservation
  • raising awareness of the unhealthy practices of fish farming

To help you further understand the impact of those two days, here is a slice, in images, videos, podcasts and posts from Twitter:

So, what matters most to you?  
What would you change about your world if you could?

We all have the potential to change the world, whether it is in the areas in which we have direct influence or through changing the lives and/or opportunities available to others. I have always fervently believed in what Mother Teresa once said, "“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” 

You can too.

Your school is full of brilliant minds. Students, teachers and adults who care about their future. Every one of them brings a life full of experiences, aptitudes, connections and knowledge that makes them not only unique, but valuable. Each person's value is their ability to contribute to one another. To combine forces. To be a unique piece of a puzzle that can solve a problem, change a life, to make an impact.

In an educational era where standardized testing of an extremely small set of skills and knowledge that all people need is largely how schools and educators are measured, we chose to set aside standard content knowledge to begin to develop different and equally valuable skills in our young leaders. We allowed them to learn through autonomy and passion-driven purpose and that has already begun to have an impact on their lives as well as the lives of others. 

It takes courage and a whole lot of hard work to do something like this. Moving forward, we are looking to create regular opportunities for students to work autonomously on intrinsically motivated projects and products that will change their world. As a school culture, we hope to create work that will engage, enhance and empower their learning, as well as provide an opportunity for them to change their world.

What did your kids do in school today?  
Why not try to change to world?

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.- Nelson Mandela

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