Yesterday was a day that I will never forget… or at least I hope I don’t. Earlier in my week, I asked my students to consider the question “What can you do to change the world?” in our class blog. My 4th graders (9 and 10 years old) talked extensively about littering, recycling, and helping others. I was amazed. Check it out! From the comments left to us, we were challenged to not let it stop at just saying what we were going to do. We were challenged to act.
This would be easy for a 4th grader to just let roll, to ignore and find reasons not to move beyond recognizing a need. Many would say that the fact that my students could even identify with the needs of others is great in and of itself, but for them that wasn’t good enough. A room full of 20 kids decided that they were going to make a difference.
It started out as a brainstorming session. What kind of project did my students want to undertake? Helping others around school? Something environmental? Something for charity? We took a vote on which project interested us the most as a class. The idea of an environmental project won handily. But, then something amazing thing happened. Two of my students who had voted for charity stood up at their seats and asked their classmates to listen for a moment. They spoke about kids who don’t have anything at all, people who don’t have enough for all the things that their classmates take for granted. They asked for another vote. When we re-voted, their heartfelt pleads had won out. They had swayed the votes of their classmates. We talked about the importance of what had just happened. Two voices full of passion and reason had changed the minds of their classmates. They didn’t whine. They didn’t complain and sulk. They spoke from the heart and learned about the profound effects and power that this can have on others.
I still had five students who were feeling so strongly about the idea of a school recycling project that were highly disappointed because they had spoken beautifully about the need to preserve and care for our environment. So, we decided to take on a less strenuous recycling plan where we wanted to set up can and bottle recycling throughout the school. They agreed to be responsible for emptying the bins and charting our progress. They also agreed to write a proposal for the principal, asking permission to undertake this project.
Meanwhile, we had to decide on a charity project to undertake. Where to start? I didn’t have to do much. The kids started discussing what we wanted to collect, how we wanted to do it and ways to include as many people as possible. We talked about toys, clothes, books and socks. We threw out the idea of toiletries, linens, blankets and mattresses. We had to reign things in a bit, but I was excited about how enthused the children were. They, too, had to come up with a proposal for the administration.
So, we made the call. Our principal always gets nervous when we ask her to come down to the room for a moment. I can’t blame her. She never knows what is going to happen. I definitely know she didn’t see this coming. The students ushered her in and offered her a seat. They asked her to watch a video. Once the video faded out, one student stood and walked over to the principal and proceeded to explain in great detail about how we wanted to set up recycling within the school. He explained that we knew it was a large responsibility, but it was something important to him. He went on to talk about things he had learned in books he was reading about the environment. Our principal was amazed. She agreed that she would help us to get the bins. Little did she know that there was more to come.
For about 30 minutes, my principal sat down with my class, listening to their desire to make a difference in the world by helping those who weren’t as fortunate as they were. I sat at the back of the classroom, fighting back tears. I was overcome with the emotions of the moment. Here was a group of kids who argue over pencil erasers and stray pieces of candy working together impact our community. There was no arguing or fussing. It was the ultimate in collaboration and inspiration.
After much discussion and brainstorming, my class has decided to form a Relay for Life team. Our principal’s father died of cancer. We all have people who we have known and loved that have been stricken by this disease. She said that for years the teachers at our school had talked about forming a team, but no one ever did. Won’t it be amazing when my 20 kids do it?
I can’t wait to update you on our progress. I know this will be a life changing journey for my students, their families and for our school. But on the same day, a friend asked what we did when we had those moments of discouragement as educators and pioneers fighting against the schools that require our students to read, write and test. I will always be reminded of today when I am working toward making our schools a place of learning, experiencing, caring, and thinking.