Middle School Students Advocate for Social Justice as Global Citizens

Social Justice in the Middle Years

This post briefly describes and assembles some media from a social justice project we did after working with the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation. The project evolved from a fundraising effort likely to raise a few hundred dollars to something much larger. The entire school was brought on board engaging in simulations, creating a video, composing a performance art project, coordinating an assembly, and inviting local, provincial, and national decision makers to make a difference on a global scale. The thinking was that while we could raise a few hundred dollars, governments could do so much more with the stroke of a pen. We wanted those decision makers to know that we supported debt cancellation for impoverished nations, fulfillment of funding promises for international aid, and put an end to unfair trade subsidies.

École Leila North Community School

Global CitizensThe middle-years students are getting MAD at École Leila North Community School in Winnipeg. They call it “making a difference.”

Teachers at Leila North had always tried to raise awareness of global and local issues, but students really stepped up their own efforts after attending MCIC’s Generating Momentum conference in 2006.

“Generating Momentum really taught us to think bigger and to make more of an impact with what we were doing,” says teacher Miles MacFarlane. “Instead of simply raising money and donating it to charity, we learned how to really educate our students with why we are raising money. We also learned how to communicate our message outside of the school and involve politicians and decision makers.”

For example, the students at the school decided to abandon the 30-hour basketball marathon they had planned. Instead, they made a video using the idea of basketball to illustrate poverty issues for the Make Poverty History campaign (see http://tinyurl.com/2adeby). They held an assembly to premiere the video and had many guests attend, including school trustees, their MLA, and other politicians. CBC even came to cover the event.

 

“One powerful image from the event was a large poster across the entire gym wall,” says MacFarlane. “Every three seconds, we found out, a child dies of issues related to poverty. So every three seconds, a student drew a face on the poster. At the end of the one hour assembly, 1,200 faces were drawn.”

Since then, the school has kept up their efforts. Most classes scan the newspaper for stories of people making a difference. One group of students takes care of recycling, and collections for Winnipeg Harvest still happen as they did but with greater understanding of the bigger picture.

Four classes are involved with PAWS—Positive Action in Winnipeg Schools. Some of their activities include visiting care homes, raising money for malaria nets and different charities, or graffiti clean-up in the school and in the community.

“Everyone at the school is involved with things,” says MacFarlane. “There’s no specific social justice group—it’s just part of the plan and the culture here.”

 

The video referred to in the article above is posted below. Students used a basketball game as a metaphor to describe the Make Poverty History campaign platform.

All three major provincial parties were represented at the event. Liberal leader John Gerrard shared his experiences at the event on his blog.

Ecole Leila North: All week students at the Ecole Leila North Community School have been focused on action to relieve poverty in Canada and around the world. Their efforts have stressed four goals - providing more and better aid, promoting fair trade, eliminating the debt of the poorest nations and eliminating child poverty in Canada. The posters in the hallways - see above - go into details on each theme.

The finale for the week was a school-wide assembly on Friday afternoon. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the event.

During the one hour assembly, students came to the front to draw a new face on the board every three seconds - to emphasize the number of children who have died, worldwide, from poverty during the hour. We saw films and heard presentations. One of the videos was made by the students themselves - well done to all the students who participated.

Congratulations to the students who led this effort - Courtney, Brett, Nikki, Karilee, Haile, Angela and Elisa (I hope I have your names spelled correctly), and to the staff - Mr. Miles MacFarlane and Mr. Jamil Mian who helped.

 The CBC attended and conducted a live radio interview with some of the students during the assembly. Listen to the 5 minute interview.

Leila North CBC Interview Make Poverty History

One of the advantages of efforts like this is that they take on a life of their own. The fund-raising tournament would have been over and the money donated in a day. Legacy product like the video distributed across Canada as part of the MCIC's efforts, and on YouTube showing 2150 views at the moment, continue to send the message long after the completion of the event. Media attention sends the message far beyond the school walls to a very large audience. Sending a clear message to local, provincial, and national decision makers demonstrates to students the power of a democracy. Exercising one's voice should no longer be a privilege, but a duty.

What do you think? Share you thoughts below...

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