Teaching Chicago Youth to Recognize and Harness Their Power

By HEART Instructor Leona Sepulveda
 
The most exhilarating part of any day as a humane educator is catching the moment when a student realizes, possibly for the very first time, that he or she has the power to create a kinder, more peaceful, more humane world. I caught that moment last week while teaching an introductory lesson to a group of about 30 fourth grade students at Richard Edwards Elementary. The introductory lesson to our 10-week Taking Action for Others program is all about empowering students to realize that their everyday choices have consequences for other people, animals, and the environment. I tell them honestly, “There are some challenges our planet, and the people and animals we share it with, are facing but you and I can make choices, as individuals, and as part of a group to fix them. That makes us –  you and me – very powerful!”
 
Midway through the lesson, I asked my students to identify a problem that their school is currently facing. This particular class chose littering. I then asked them to brainstorm, in teams, ways that they could help reduce the amount of litter in their school and community, both as individuals, and as a group. When students work together, it’s usually the perfect opportunity for me to be a fly-on-the-wall. As I walked around I overheard a group of three very excited students coming up with an idea for what they could do to address the problem. “Let’s start a patrol. One of us could tell people to stop throwing their garbage on the floor because it affects us all,” said one student. Another quickly followed with, “Yeah. And I could hold a bag while you pick up the stuff that’s already there.”
 
Other students considered picking up a single piece of trash whenever they went outside. I always love this answer because it shows that students aren’t thinking about who created the problem, only that they have the ability to help to fix it.
 
These may seem like small things to most but I have to ask myself, would they be having this dialogue in any other class? And if not, shouldn’t they be? After all, big and small solutions, if done by everyone, can change the world in incredible ways.

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