Lusher School and Momentous Institute used their Innovation Fund to foster a four-school, two-city collaboration devoted to spreading empathy and goodwill among their student bodies and wider communities. The two schools, located in New Orleans and Dallas, worked with Homer Plessy Community School in New Orleans, and Cottonwood Creek School in Coppel, TX (another Changemaker School) to create the “HEART: Having Empathy Across Reflective Teams” project. The four schools developed the projects following school visits where representatives from Momentous and Cottonwood spent two days in New Orleans, and Lusher and Homer Plessy sent their own representatives to Dallas. During these visits, the representatives had the opportunity to tour each school, speak with staff members, share strengths (“Glows”) and areas for Growth (“Grows”), and begin planning for their “Changemaker” Days and the Love Drop Project. After returning home, all four schools kept in touch via Skype, while the local schools were able to continue working together on Changemaker Day.
The two school pairings created unique lesson plans for Changemaker Day, but each ultimately centered on empathy and changemaking and featured collaborative problem-solving games focused on solving social issues. Lusher and Plessy selected “Great Peacemakers” as their Changemaker Day theme with the aim of helping students understand the concepts of sanctuary and non-violence and of empowering them to connect their own positive character traits with those of Great Peacemakers. In one activity, students viewed a PowerPoint presentation about Great Peacemakers, which included leaders such as the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and then discussed what it means to be both “great” and a “peacemaker.” The students then created portraits of a Great Peacemaker of their choice that featured not only a physical representation of their selected peacemaker but also quotations from and admirable traits of that person. Students were invited to share their leftover supplies with one another and were each given time to present their portrait to the other students, thereby encouraging collaboration, sharing and communication.
The schools also created the Love Drop Project in order to engage with a community beyond their immediate school environments. For this project, students painted rocks with friendly, positive messages and placed them throughout their local community to be discovered. Each person who found a rock was asked to take a picture, post it on the Love Drop Facebook page, and then pay it forward with an act of kindness. The project spread good feeling throughout local and not-so-local communities, as the rocks quickly spread to other cities and made it as far afield as Hawaii and the Cannes Film Festival! Louisiana State Senator JP Morell sponsored a Senate Resolution recognizing the project, and kindergarteners from Lusher received the resolution on the Senate floor.
The Innovation Fund grant offered schools who would not otherwise have the chance to interact the opportunity to create lasting friendships. This contact has helped each school become stronger and more innovative as they learn about the strengths of their peers. The grant also benefited a wider network of communities through the Love Drop Project, which spread messages of kindness and empathy far beyond the walls of the four schools involved.