by Kristen LaScola
Hudson City Schools, Ohio
I am a 3rd grade teacher at Hudson City Schools in Hudson, Ohio. I first came across Jesse Ruben when a family member sent me “We Can” – the rally song of The We Can Project initiative, which he founded to encourage kids to do projects that change the world. Being a musician myself, I have a great appreciation for music and always use music as a tool to help my students learn. I teach one song per week in my classroom, and after watching the song’s music video, I thought it had a great message, and I knew that we had to learn it!
My kids loved the song and asked me if we could write to Jesse to see if he would come visit our school. We immediately wrote an email to Jesse asking him questions about his life, his music, and the “We Can” initiative. Jesse responded to us within minutes, saying he would love to come visit. The kids were thrilled. I presented the idea to my principal, who also loved the concept, and I worked with my PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) to raise the money for Jesse’s visit.
My students and I began by talking about how we can all make a difference, no matter how big or small. We brainstormed ideas of how the students’ could change themselves, their school, their community and the world. I was overwhelmed with the ideas and projects my students came up with!
My Students’ Projects
After brainstorming, the students honed in on one specific idea. I wanted them to choose something that pertained to their interests, so they would stay engaged in their project. My students took their ideas and put a plan together. The plan targeted specifics like who would be involved in helping them, how long would it take them, materials they would need, etc. We talked about how making a good plan would help them overcome any obstacles they might encounter. Finally, the students had to present their plan to the class.
Some of the projects included creating a basketball league for kids who wanted to make new friends, raising money to help animals find good homes, teaming up with a recycling facility for the school district, helping the homeless, creating a new charity to help underprivileged students, raising money for cancer awareness and cancer research, donating time/toys to children who are "bored" in the hospital, and simply saying something kind to someone different every day. We even had long-term goals such as becoming an astronaut and creating life in outer space and becoming President of the United States. Each idea was unique and very well thought out. These projects placed emphasis on the idea that with a well thought out plan, and some creativity, anything is possible – and even 8 or 9 year olds living in Hudson, Ohio, could change the world and make it a better place.
When Jesse came to visit, each classroom presented their ideas to him, and we held a “We Can” sing-along. Jesse took the time to visit each classroom, share his story, and challenge the students to think bigger and achieve great things. This was the most profound moment of Jesse’s visit, as the students were able to see this great guy relate to them, and help them to see, if only for a moment, that they could achieve something bigger than themselves. I realize these are young students, and these big global ideas of changing the world and helping others may seem like difficult concepts to a 3rd grader, but I promise you, after Jesse’s visit, they weren’t. They got it.
This visit took place two years ago. Jesse made a return visit last year, and we opened the program up to our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, reaching over 1,200 students. Jesse performed a concert for students and families to share in the experience together. This year we hope to include the entire district - about 4,800 students - in the initiative.
The Impact of “We Can”
When I stop to think about the impact Jesse Ruben and his “We Can” initiative has had and will continue to have in our small city of Hudson, Ohio, I get goose bumps. There is no limit to how powerful this program can be. I still receive emails from parents of students I had two years ago letting me know the profound influence the “We Can” program had on their child. Whether students created a plan to help an endangered species, constructed a new playground, or simply decided to make an effort to be more kind to those around them, they realized that they could make a difference.
I am excited to take this further at Hudson, and I am thrilled to simply be a part of this experience. I came into education to make a difference and to help kids believe that if they put their minds to something, even just a small something, then anything is possible. The “We Can” program has changed me as an educator, and it has changed my students in a positive way. If we have other districts who join in the “We Can” experience and broaden the young minds of our youth, there is no telling how we can change the world for the better.
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