by Mike Kaechele
At Kent Innovation High, a PBL high school, we are constantly developing the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skills of our students through collaboration in authentic work. We decided to end the school year with a service learning project to focus on the competency of social awareness. We combined American Studies, an integrated American history and ELA class, with chemistry in the Poverty Project. In American Studies, students explored the questions: “Why are people poor? Whose fault is it? How can we fix poverty?” while learning about the Great Depression and reading The Great Gatsby. In chemistry class, students learned about how soap works on a molecular level and the intermolecular forces involved.
To launch the project, we had representatives from Heartside, a local mission in Grand Rapids, Michigan that works with their “neighbors” (homeless people), come in and talk to students about how Heartside shows their neighbors respect and gives them dignity through education and art programs. The last week of school a group of students visited Heartside and toured the neighborhood and facilities to see how the program works. Our students were challenged to brainstorm what they could do to support Heartside.
Some students decided to make soap from scratch, including creative designs such as making it look like footballs and basketballs. Others started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Heartside. Another group organized a donation drive to get personal hygiene items brought in for care packages.
One of the things that Heartside provides is art classes to their neighbors so that they can express themselves and see value in themselves through their creativity. One group of students came up with the idea of doing all kinds of different fundraisers to buy art from the Heartside neighbors and hang it in our school. The students wanted to provide dignity to the neighbors, not just give them a handout. We teachers would never have thought of all of these great ideas!
The best thing about the Poverty Project was that the teachers were not “in charge” of this process. Students organized and made all of these campaigns happen. We challenged students to make a difference in the community and as they always do when given voice and choice, students blew us away with their empathy and creativity in caring for others!
Students are ready to practice social awareness at school. All they need is for us to challenge them and to be given the opportunity to make a difference. How will you let go of your class and allow your students make a difference in the world? Students don’t need to wait until “someday.” They can change the world right now!
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