By Nick Ross
While teaching kindness in schools is not something we can directly measure, it is something that should be equally as important to a student’s education. Imagine being told as a child that you have the power to impact an entire community and then see it come to fruition from the actions of you and your fellow peers. For some schools, this may seem daunting, but for the students at Oceanside it is something that has become a reality.
In today’s blog post I wanted to highlight some of the great work that is being done at Oceanside Schools in New York, which includes a great interview I was able to have with Angela Abend, one of the teachers in the district. These kids are truly inspiring and show us that anyone has the power to bring about positive change.
The genesis of some of the great work these students are doing comes from the gifted/enrichment program in the district called Project Extra. Project Extra has been a part of the school district for many years and is housed in a separate building from the students’ home schools. Students in Grades 4 through 6 spend half a school day at Project Extra and work on various projects, including service projects. Angela Abend, the teacher of the Project Extra Class, states that:
“You start with a topic that the students are passionate about and let it grow organically from there.”
The most recent project they have worked tirelessly on is called A Thirst for Change. For this project, the students did an amazing job at bringing awareness to the global water issue and raised over $2,000 for the cause. Sixty sixth graders worked collaboratively with the Oceanside High School WIC Team, comprised of many Project Extra graduates!
A Thirst For Change
Last year a children’s book was written by Susan Verde, called “The Water Princess.” The main character Gie Gie, was inspired by a real life African woman named Georgie Badiel. The story depicts a young girl’s dream of bringing clean drinking water to her African village which is Badiel’s main passion in her life. As a young girl, Georgie would have to walk three hours each morning to find clean drinking water. Georgie moved to the United States almost a decade ago and currently lives in New York. After going back to Africa to visit her sister, she realized the availability of clean water had not improved and she needed to make a change.
Badiel started the Georgie Badiel Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing access to clean drinking water throughout her home village of Burkina Faso.
When “The Water Princess” was published and shared with the students at Oceanside, they became immediately passionate about helping Georgie’s Foundation. They were able to have Skype conversations with both Susan Verde and Georgie Badiel which greatly increased their drive for the project. After fundraisers were held, a Go Fund Me page established, and plastic bottles recycled at each school, the students of Project Extra and the Oceanside High School WIC team, invited Georgie to their district to present her with a $2,000 check for her foundation. They also presented information about the world’s water crisis to each other and many invited guests. Second-graders from Oceanside’s Boardman Elementary School also took part, raising $120 for the foundation by collecting and recycling 2,400 water bottles just from their school!
While this was an impressive feat in itself, I was also amazed by the reactions of the students. Even at such a young age, they had the drive to help so many other people. Some of the students recorded their reflections in short video messages and can be seen in the link below.
Lindsey: “Walking away from this project, I felt inspired to make more change. I can’t for my next opportunity to make more change.”
In the final section of this post, I wanted to share some excerpts of the great conversation I had with Angela about A Thirst for Change and the impact of kindness.
How do you believe that this project changed students’ lives?
“Students in Oceanside see themselves as agents of change.”
They have become pro-active change makers and continually work towards this goal. They have internalized these ideas and truly made them their own. Passive research became research of action and it became a point of no return. Many students said that they will never forget the A Thirst For Change project.
Students collected donations and recycled plastic bottles to purchase copies of “The Water Princess” for each of the elementary school libraries in the district, the public library, and donated an impressive check to the Georgie Badiel Foundation. They still discuss the project daily and are not finished. The students are now working on short video based on a charity they are passionate about for a contest to earn even more money for Badiel’s Foundation. They are proactive in reaching out to other organizations and are going out on their own with the confidence that they can continue make a difference in their world.
Were there any events or outcomes that you did not expect to happen?
The entire project grew naturally in ways I did not expect so everything that transpired was a bit of a pleasant surprise. One wonderful surprise was Georgie being able to come to the event and watching her interact so beautifully with the children. She took the time to listen to every student. Georgie donated t-shirts to the students and she signed them all personally at the conclusion of the event. Most students commented on how inspired they were by her after meeting her in their reflections written following the project.
Kylie: “The moment she signed my shirt, my heart jumped a thousand miles because of how inspiring she is.”
In an interview with the high school students, Georgie was overwhelmed when she stated how she couldn’t believe how much they all cared about something she was so deeply passionate about.
Many people and organizations reached out with Project Extra, one of which was Christine Ieronimo. Ieronimo is the author of “A Thirst for Home: A Story of Water Across the World” and she Skyped with the children to share her story. This very touching book inspired the students even further.
If you were giving advice to another teacher who is looking to start project like “A Thirst For Change” at their school, what would it be?
“Let the children lead.”
If they see they have an opportunity to create change on the local level or on a global level, give them the tools, the foundation, to get started. Provide them with the necessary resources they will need so that they can have a greater impact and then … watch them fly. Help them realize how the four walls of their classroom are no longer there and that they can make necessary connections worldwide because of technology, specifically social media.
When is a time that someone greatly impacted your life through an act of kindness?
“When I first started teaching, my first principal, Stephen Kriss, had a great impact on me. Mr. Kriss was a kind man, a mentor, and a great support system. He truly helped me become the teacher I always dreamed to be. “
If there was one small good deed that you wish more people would do every day, what would it be?
“Accept children for who they are, so they can truly become all that they can be. In doing so we are giving them the strength and confidence needed for who they will become in the future.”
Changing the World
These kids are Wired to Love and have amazing paths ahead of them. I’d like to close this post with a quote from another one of the students named Megan:
“Most people think, well they’re only kids, so they can’t really change the world. But right now, we just proved whoever thought that wrong, and that’s something that can really set you on a path for your life.”
If you’d like to see the full presentation then follow the link below:
Check out a shorter music montage here, too: