Many teachers are drawn to education for the opportunity to make a difference in their students’ lives. However, when faced with guiding students through trying times in order to meet their big goals, teachers need resources that strengthen social and emotional skills.
At Port Chester Middle School in Port Chester, NY, teacher Allison Silverman faced this very challenge and used the lessons in the Lead4Change program to be successful. Lead4Change is a free student leadership curriculum offering the chance to submit a student-led service learning project for a grant of up to $10,000. Its series of leadership lessons provides opportunities for strong student engagement through collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving and reflection.
Such programs offer students numerous benefits. An independent research study found that participating in Lead4Change caused significant growth in areas such as leadership skills (60 percent of students improved), respect for others (54 percent) and ambition and innovation (53 percent). However, teachers can have equally transformative experiences.
When Silverman and her students formed the “PC Hunger Fighters” team, her students studied the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals and together, came to consensus on creating a vertical garden using upcycled materials, aiming to help the 200,000 food insecure individuals in their county. Then, Silverman heard from a student participating in the program.
“I received a very desperate call from one of our students,” she recalls. “There had been a shooting the night before and a 26-year-old Port Chester resident was killed. The student knew this man. I remember sitting on the bench next to my school garden and crying. I cried so hard. I had no idea what to do, or what to tell the kids.”
“I thought about how insignificant our ‘little gardens’ would be alongside challenges like poverty and violence,” Silverman says.
The students coped with the tragedy by using the Lead4Change’s lessons in communication, overcoming barriers and working as a team. They knew more could be done because of what they’d practiced.
“I cancelled our celebration scheduled for the following day and instead met in the boardroom with the kids. For three hours, we talked about injustices and inequalities, pledging to continue to work together to fight these things and make a real difference. We realized our project was important,” says Silverman.
Their efforts were awarded as one of the grand prize-winning teams, earning a $10,000 grant, though their participation was a reward in and of itself because of the leadership skills they mastered. This is just one of the hundreds of stories unfolding nationwide.
“The Lead4Change experience was as valuable to me as it was for the students,” shares Thomas Loner, a teacher from South Carolina-located Bates Middle school, whose “Bates’ Bodacious Bantams” student team helped a local homeless shelter by collecting supplies. “This program forced me to give up ‘control’ of my classroom and let students become leaders.”
Teacher Holly Hartman in Lebanon, PA continues to experience the program’s benefits after years of participation. “This journey not only helps my students grow, but somehow also manages to help me become a bit wiser with each experience,” she says.
For more information about the Lead4Change Student Leadership Program, visit lead4change.org.
Leadership curriculum will not only prepare students for a future of increasingly complex social issues, but also serve as a catalyst for helping teachers and students alike find purpose and meaning.