Several months ago, my class and I put together a Donor’s Choose project in order to buy some alternative seating for our classroom. As I was showing them the incredible DonorsChoose.org website, one of my students was really affected by seeing some of the projects that were listed for schools in the highest poverty areas in Chicago. She was upset by the fact that while we were asking for cool and fun chairs, other schools were asking for notebooks, art supplies, snacks for students and black-and-white printers. And, because she believes that she can do good in this world, she decided to do something about this.
After our project was complete, this brilliant student of mine decided to organize a fundraiser so that we could return the favors done for us by incredibly generous people in our lives and make a donation to complete a project listed for a school in one of the highest poverty areas of Chicago. So she, and a few of her classmates, got to work. They arranged a meeting with our principal and came up with a plan to host a penny war for the four fifth grade classes and then to raise awarness and collect donations from all of the other grades in the school as well. These students worked through recess for several weeks planning the fundraiser, writing letters home, writing announcements for the school, delivering envelopes to teachers to collect money in and create a place to collect all of the spare change brought in for the fifth grade penny wars. They also convinced the fifth grade teachers to agree to allow the winning class to throw a pie in the face of their class’s teacher.
The fundraiser ran from the last week in January through the first week of Feburary. Today we counted all of the money raised. In total, our school raised over SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS to donate to projects listed on the Donor’s Choose website. We were able to find four projects that we will be able to complete the funding for, all coming from high poverty schools in Chicago. Today, the kids worked hard to count all of the money, create announcements to share our earnings with the school and select the four projects that we will be donating our money too.
I was brought nearly to tears several times this morning while watching my students work. The investment that these kids put into this project was amazing. The one student who organized much of this fundraiser has single handedly convinced me that our world is going to be in very good hands as these kids grow up. She is amazing and she wanted absolutely NO recognition for the work that she did. While other students bickered about who got to do what, she kindly kept reminding us all that the real point of all of this was to do something good for other people. I wish you all could know her.
What continued to strike me as I watched my kids work is how easy it would have been for me to tell her that this project wasn’t going to work. And in years past, I think that I probably would have done just that. I think that in past years, I would have seen all the work that would have been necesary to pull this off and I would have assumed that she wouldn’t be able to do it. In past years, I don’t think that I would have truly allowed my students to follow their ideas through for fear that they would fail. I would have cut them off before they had a chance to soar. And what a shame that would have been.
One of the things that I am learning this year is that our students will grab whatever power we are willing to give them and they will, most often, use that power to do incredible things. When our students truly believe that they can change the world, they will try to change it. When our students see that we will trust them and follow them when they share their ideas, they will start to share more and more amazing ideas. When our students know that we are not just preparing them to one day create positive change, but instead know that they are capable right now of creating positive change, then they will look for ways to create that change today.
When kids feel empowered, it is amazing what they will do.
And in case anyone is wondering, my co-teacher and I will be getting pies thrown in our faces tomorrow afternoon, all in the name of a good cause. I promise to share some pictures and perhaps even some video!