Last December, our school learned about WE Day coming to Seattle, and I was given the opportunity to incorporate the values of WE Day into my current leadership class. The purpose of WE Day is that it would be the “movement of our time, bringing together a generation of youth to change the world.” It is a youth conference being held on March 27th at Key Arena in Seattle, where 15,000 students will hear stories from celebrities and community heroes who will inspire them to make a difference in their world. In order to qualify for WE Day, a school must complete one global and one local service project.
For our local project we had the privilege of working with Enumclaw Special Olympics and its “Pack the Gym” event. At this event, students in the Special Olympics programs in both Enumclaw and Auburn get together to play basketball games in front of a cheering crowd. This year, my leadership class was able to help in running this event. We created encouraging posters for the athletes, made flyers to hand out at the door, ran the scoreboard and helped out wherever we could. Our favorite role in helping to run this event was being able to make a tunnel for the athletes to run through when their names were announced. As my students stood there with their arms up in two lines on the gym floor, they got to watch athlete after athlete run through that tunnel with enthusiasm and huge smiles on their faces. We wanted to help make this moment memorable for the athletes. But the evening was memorable for us too. When I asked my class the next day what their experience was like helping with this event, every single student said they had enjoyed it. For my students, carving out an evening in their busy schedules to serve others was worthwhile. I would think that it would be a goal of WE Day that students realize the joy that comes with serving others.
Another goal of WE Day is for students to recognize issues going on around them in their world. We looked at how much we appreciated water and set some goals for cutting back how much water we used on a daily basis. Students learned that in countries like Sierra Leone, getting water is much different than it is here. In many African countries, women must collect water for their families from sources that are several miles away from their villages. Collected from nearby streams or rivers, the unsanitary water they collect and must carry back with them may cause their families to get sick.
My class decided that for our global project, we would raise money to provide clean water in the form of a well to a village in Sierra Leone. We are working with the organization started in 1995 by WE Day founder, Craig Kielburger, which is known as Free the Children. Students ran an assembly to inform the rest of the student body at Enumclaw Middle School about clean water issues in Sierra Leone. My students communicated that if we could provide a well in one of these communities, families would be healthier and not get sick from water-borne illnesses. In addition, women would not need to spend their days going miles out of their village several times per day to collect water. They could spend this time instead getting an education during the day and enjoying time with their families more in the evenings. We wanted to let students know that the smallest things can make all the difference. When dropped in a pool of water, even just one penny creates a ripple effect.
Students introduced a change drive with the idea that even pocket change can truly “change” the world. One penny can create a ripple effect. But what about one hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? The students at EMS responded to the challenge. By the end of the change drive, EMS students raised a total of $2,205.50. Included in this total were over ten thousand pennies. If one penny creates a ripple effect, imagine what ten thousand can do?
One of the best parts of this fundraiser is that students didn’t raise money so that their class would win and be honored as the class that had the most. Our school realized that the winners in all of this would be the children in Africa who will one day in the near future be able to go to a well in their village and be treated to cool, clean water with the money that was raised. Women will be able to go to school and be with their families more. The cycle of poverty will just be that much closer to being broken.
I wish I knew about all of the discussions that took place in our community between students with their teachers and parents with their kids over the last couple weeks about the importance of families in Sierra Leone having access to clean water. But one thing I know for sure is that the students at our school have made a difference in their world.
I am looking forward to WE Day. As each speaker and performer gives their inspiring messages, I will be thinking about what twenty dedicated kids in my leadership class were able to accomplish this last trimester. I will be thinking about all of the ways they will be inspired to continue to make their world a better place in the days to come. And then I will look out at the enthusiastic 15,000 others in attendance on that day and think about all of the incredible things they have also done to make a difference in their world.
WE Day has caused ripples of change to spread throughout western Washington. I cannot yet imagine the wave that will be caused when all of these students come together on one special day to celebrate their achievements. I cannot yet imagine the impact that hearing from such positive community role models such as Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll or Jennifer Hudson will have in inspiring students to actively look for ways they can continue to change their world.
But I do know one thing for sure. I have seen my students truly care about making an impact on their school, their local community and their world. Count me among the inspired.
Enumclaw Middle School Teacher