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Fifth Graders Take the Lead at North Glendale Elementary School

How older students at Changemaker School North Glendale Elementary led their peers to make change in St. Louis, MO.

By Laura White

In May 2012, Laura graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in Political Economy. While at Tulane, Laura brought her Youth Venture project, Swim 4 Success, to New Orleans, LA, and was a founding member of Tulane’s Ashoka U Changemaker Campus team. As a member of the Empathy Initiative, Laura manages the Changemaker Schools network, a group of schools that have given empathy as much priority as math and literacy. Laura is passionate about changemaker education, empathy, and transforming early childhood education.

July 29, 2013

Many progressive teachers want students to take the lead in their learning, but it can be difficult to encourage student leadership in practice. Change Leaders Elizabeth Stickley and Amy Potsoufound found a great opportunity for students to discover their agency when the two teachers learned about The Big Return, a campaign created by the St. Louis community to empower youth to make positive social change.

Even though they were one of the only elementary schools to participate in the project, North Glendale students proved just as capable of making a big difference in their community as the older project participants. Three 5th graders represented the school in The Big Return and then worked with the rest of the school to design a solution to their challenge: to improve the well-being of patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

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Drawing on their experience from North Glendale’s family groups--mixed age groups of students that meet with a teacher on a monthly basis to develop character and complete service-learning projects--the 5th graders, Stickley, and Potsou organized empathy-based brainstorming meetings with each class. Classes were asked to imagine themselves at home as well as the feelings they have at home and then to imagine themselves at a hospital and the feelings they experience there. Students then brainstormed ideas to make the hospital feel more like home as well as ideas to raise money to fund their ideas. Then every student in the school raised money themselves by doing everything from raking leaves to selling hot chocolate. In the end, the “North Glendale Superstars” raised $2,381.23 for the St. Louis Children’s Hospital to purchase video games, books, DVDs, and stuffed animals to make the hospital feel more like home!

Through this multi-age, school-wide effort, North Glendale students saw that when they set a goal to improve the community and work together, they could succeed. The 5th graders saw themselves as changemakers and left the project ready to lead change for the rest of their lives.

Join us next week to learn about how middle schoolers carry their changemaking experiences in elementary school into the next phase of their school lives. In the meantime, we want to know:

How does your school support student-led efforts to improve the community?