Change is possible
STS Grade 6 students participate in a phenomenal learning experience each year as part of the IB Programme. Most recently they focused on the compelling question: How do we advocate for the rights of those without a voice?
The 11 and 12 year-old students embarked on a complex journey to determine whose voices in our society are not being heard, who is vulnerable, and whose basic and social needs are not being met.
At STS, we believe change is possible and that education must extend beyond classroom learning experiences to include socially responsible attitudes and thoughtful and appropriate action.
This project fully engaged Grade 6 students in the inquiry which helped them truly understand the daily challenges experienced by vulnerable groups of people in our community. After much research, each of the 19 student groups chose a Calgary-based non-profit organization to focus their project on. They then visited their organizations to experience first-hand how people in our community live with homelessness, addictions, disabilities and neglect. Our students learned how to interact with people who expressed their perspectives and shared insights that could not be garnered through the browsing of websites, nor through reading news articles.
Advocacy in action
The students used their voices, their knowledge, and their power, to speak for people whose cries for help have not been heard often enough. They advocated for thousands of Calgarians who need additional funds for programs, resources and human interactions that will bring further opportunities for wellness and happiness. Representatives from the Calgary Foundation sat on a “Dragons’ Den” style panel – listening to “pitches” from each student group who advocated for an organization they believe is doing great work for people in the community. Through their research, students identified ways in which these organizations could benefit from additional support from the Calgary Foundation, and they used their collective voices to express this need. Research and speech writing are core skills acquired as part of an STS education, and became more relevant than ever before for these young advocates. They not only had a purpose, and an authentic audience, but they had a real opportunity to create change and make a difference – and they certainly felt the magnitude of their challenge. The students worked extremely hard writing letters to government officials, contacting organizations, and writing, rewriting and practicing their speeches. The Calgary Foundation panel engaged with the 19 student groups, listening to their speeches, questioning the ways that they think additional funds would be used by the organization for which they were advocating, and providing feedback to students about their work and commitment.
After much deliberation and reflection on the student’s immense amount of work and passion in advocating for the needs of the organizations, the Calgary Foundation chose to make 19 separate donations on behalf of the students. This was not expected and was an incredible surprise to all involved. Once the dust settled, the students had the opportunity to reflect on the learning and the impact of their actions, which helped to close the loop on the valuable experience. We are seeing many positive residual effects coming out of the Grade 6 inquiry, including students volunteering to work with their organizations, and some are even being invited back as guest speakers. Many of the organizations have reported back on how they’ve put the extra funds to good use – again demonstrating the direct impact.
This project is a prime example of STS meeting its mission to develop well-balanced students with character. In the end this was not just another unit to study in school – this real-world experience literally changed lives.