WASHINGTON—Classroom projects such as learning about global cultural perspectives as a way to build compassion, planning a community garden to promote healthy eating, combating bullying, learning American Sign Language and building a health and wellness library are some of the 15 winning projects in the Citizen Power Challenge.
The challenge, funded by the Aspen Institute’s Pluribus Project, is sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers, the Albert Shanker Institute and First Book. Educators and others working with students nationwide were invited to identify an issue and a civic engagement project important to their students, school or community, and how, with the support of books and resources from First Book, their students could take action to address that issue. More than 920 proposals were received.
The 15 winning educators—five each from elementary, middle and high schools—will receive a collection of special resources to help them implement their projects and a $500 grant for use on the First Book Marketplace. First Book offers educators high-quality books and educational resources at deeply discounted prices.
“A big part of education is encouraging our kids to be engaged and informed citizens, and these projects embrace this goal. What I’m most excited about is the lasting effect these projects will have not just on their local communities but also on students’ understanding of their rights, responsibilities and power as citizens. Working collectively on solutions to problems in schools, communities and globally is how we move our nation forward,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and the Albert Shanker Institute.
“The future of our country depends on igniting young people’s interest in civic engagement and helping them realize they can create lasting change in their communities. Many of us remember educators in our own lives who opened our eyes to our own power to be forces for positive change. We believe these projects, and the books and resources First Book will provide to help them flourish, will help these young leaders advance the causes they are so passionate about. And, by sharing stories about the successes of these projects, others around the country will be inspired to be change makers,” said Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book.
“In a time of so much cynicism, these student teams show us that it’s possible—and necessary—for everyday Americans to create positive change in their communities. Sometimes it takes young people to remind the rest of the country how to be empowered citizens,” said Eric Liu, executive director of the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program.
The 2016 winners:
Racheal Safier, kindergarten teacher at Luis Munoz Marin School for Social Justice in Newark, N.J.
Project: First-graders will lead students in research about the causes and effects of global warming and climate change.
Roberta Brotherton, teacher at E.W. Rhodes Elementary School (K-8) in Philadelphia
Project: Second- and seventh-grade students will design and execute recycling programs, read books about the topic and use tablets to track progress.
Maria Diaz fifth-grade teacher at PS 24 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Project: Builds off their study of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a project to support a small, impoverished school in the Dominican Republic. Students will study different communities around the world to build understanding, acceptance, empathy and compassion for others.
Elizabeth Mundt, fourth-grade teacher at Whittier International Elementary School in Minneapolis
Project: Studying the culture and history of Native Americans and current experiences and challenges of native people in Minnesota, and beginning to learn the Ojibwe language.
Cindy Baxter, after-school program educator with elementary school students in Conneautville, Pa.
Project: Students, many of whom are being raised by grandparents, will give back to seniors in their community by starting a reading, arts and crafts, and gardening program at a local senior center.
Kellyn Holliday, literacy program founder at the Housing Authority of St. Louis County
Project: Children living in the public housing community will plan a community garden to learn teamwork, community engagement and how positive changes can improve their community.
Lynda Thornton, sixth-grade teacher at Washington Middle School in Meriden, Conn.
Project: The Meriden school community is implementing a restorative justice program, with a focus on student voices. Sixth-grade reading classes will use books on acceptance, diversity and resolving conflict to discuss how a main character overcomes struggles.
Lori DiGisi, seventh-grade teacher at Fuller Middle School in Framingham, Mass.
Project: Students, including English language learners, will read books by multicultural authors to show how people have stood up to racism and inequality and have been able to improve their public perception through their talents and strengths.
Claudine James, English teacher at Malvern Middle School in Malvern, Ark.
Project: Multicultural books will be read to expose students to various cultures worldwide and to promote tolerance and combat school bullying.
Thor Snilsberg, executive director of CityScience in Brooklyn, N.Y., and working with several New York City schools
Project: Middle school students will create three rain gardens and tree pits to study environmental stewardship, plant life and stormwater management, and to create beautiful gardens in their neighborhood.
Nancy Barger, teacher at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Fla.
Project: Students will learn American Sign Language as a way to value the diversity of different populations and to interact with and learn about deaf students in their school district.
Kay E. Hones, librarian on special assignment with San Francisco’s Hilltop High School’s Pregnant Minors Program
Project: Students in science class will research the environmental impact on local endangered frogs, butterflies and bees, and discuss and decide positive ways to share information and encourage community support. Students will then create bilingual books for toddlers and young children to be shared in the library program for young parents.
Harry Brubaker, teacher at John Bartram High School in Philadelphia
Project: Build a health and wellness library with fiction and nonfiction books relevant to the local community. Goals include changing the mindset of students and families who often rely on unhealthy food, connecting environmental and health issues with families’ daily lives, and promoting positive choices to enhance the lives of those in the community.
Kelly Hams Pearson, teacher at Jackson County Family Court Community Reintegration Group Home in Kansas City, Mo.
Project: Create a poetry and creative writing space in the group home, where the students live, and have them write journals with their own poetry and drawings to share with younger children while their parents are in court.
Nicole Menold, teacher at Indian Springs High School in San Bernardino, Calif.
Project: To instill the habit of giving back, ninth-grade English students will create book collections to assist and inspire younger students to create pay-it-forward campaigns. Students will give oral presentations in the community and submit proposals to better their community.
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About the Albert Shanker Institute
The Albert Shanker Institute is a nonprofit organization established in 1998 to honor the life and legacy of the late AFT president. The organization’s bylaws commit it to four fundamental principles—vibrant democracy, quality public education, a voice for working people in decisions affecting their jobs and their lives, and free and open debate about all of these issues. The institute brings together influential leaders and thinkers from business, labor, government and education from across the political spectrum.
About the American Federation of Teachers
The AFT is a union of 1.6 million professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. The AFT is committed to advancing these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through the work our members do.
About First Book
First Book is a nonprofit social enterprise founded in 1992 that has distributed more than 150 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada, and, with more than 275,000 members, is the largest and fastest-growing network of educators exclusively serving kids in need. By making new, high-quality books and educational resources available on an ongoing basis, First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education. Eligible educators, librarians, program leaders and others serving children in need can sign up at www.firstbook.org/register.
About the Pluribus Project Narrative Collaboratory
The Pluribus Project Narrative Collaboratory is a platform for generating and propagating new narratives of citizen voice and efficacy, coupled with the tools of power and action that others can use. It is part of the Pluribus Project, a special initiative with the Aspen Institute that seeks to cultivate the political power of the many so America can live up to its founding vision as a republic of the people, by the people and for the people.