For many educators, the inspiration to teach comes from a desire to make a positive difference in students’ lives. As they seek to guide students toward their big goals through trying times, teachers need resources that strengthen social and emotional skills.
Facing this very challenge, Allison Silverman, a teacher at Port Chester Middle School in New York, turned to the lessons in the Lead4Change program. Lead4Change is a free student leadership curriculum that provides opportunities for student engagement through collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving and reflection. Resulting student-led, service-learning projects can be submitted to the Lead4Change Challenge contest. Each year, winning teams are awarded grants of up to $10,000 for their charity or school.
The Lead4Change Leadership programs offer numerous benefits for students. An independent research study found that participating in Lead4Change contributed to significant growth in areas such as leadership skills (60% of students improved), respect for others (54%) and ambition and innovation (53%). Teachers can have equally transformative experiences.
When Silverman and her students formed the “PC Hunger Fighters,” they began by studying the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Then, they came to a consensus about creating a vertical garden using upcycled materials, to help the 200,000 food insecure individuals in the U.S. 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 students. I thought about how insignificant our ‘little gardens’ would be alongside challenges like poverty and violence.”
The students responded to 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 canceled our celebration scheduled for the following day and instead met in the boardroom with the students. For three hours, we talked about injustices and inequalities, pledging to work together to make a real difference. We realized our project was important,” said Silverman.
In recognition of the team’s efforts, they were selected as one of the grand prize-winning teams for 2019, earning a $10,000 grant. In truth, their participation was a reward in and of itself because of the leadership skills they mastered. Around the United States, hundreds of similar stories can be told about students building and using their leadership skills through the Lead4Change program.
Next Level Leadership
For those who teach the Lead4Change Student Leadership Program, we see a commitment to “Next Level Leadership.” It takes the willingness to educate with innovate resources and the desire to develop teens into prepared emerging leaders. No matter how you “go back to school” this fall, we encourage you to be inspired by your peers — and to share your story to inspire others.
“The Lead4Change experience was as valuable to me as it was for the students,” shares Thomas Loner, a teacher from Bates Middle school in South Carolina. The “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, Pennsylvania continues to experience the program’s benefits after years of participation. “This journey not only helps my students grow but also somehow manages to help me become a bit wiser with each experience,” she says.
A leadership curriculum not only prepares students for a future of increasingly complex social issues, but also serves as a catalyst for helping teachers and students alike find purpose and meaning. The Lead4Change Student Leadership Program is helping to fill a gap in middle and high school education by allowing students to lead, create and implement team projects designed to meet a need in their local community.
Lead4Change During the Pandemic
As learning became virtual to help curb the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators and parents were concerned about how the experience would impact social and emotional development. “The pandemic is having profound effects on children’s mental well-being, their social development, their safety, their privacy, their economic security and beyond,” a policy brief by the United Nations stated. “While children are not the face of this pandemic, its broader impacts on children risk being catastrophic and amongst the most lasting consequences for societies as a whole.”
While maintaining progress in core subject areas is imperative, a curriculum that develops leadership skills is equally essential to ensure that emotional development continues virtually. Leadership programs can be completed virtually by adapting projects to address current concerns, and they can not only succeed without physical contact, but offer unique challenges that help students to grow as leaders.
Students at Mohave High School in Arizona, reconsidered their project when social distancing began, choosing to create a recorded read-aloud library of developmentally appropriate books for preschoolers. With high schoolers reading to preschoolers and teaching them literacy and social development skills, this resource allowed an early childhood program to continue virtually.
“The students developed a ‘can-do attitude’ while working collaboratively to adapt to their new normal,” said teacher, Michele Leyendecker. “With so much uncertainty, this project truly gave them purpose.” The “T-Bird Readers” team was awarded Lead4Change’s grand prize, a $10,000 grant for a nonprofit of their choice.
In Garner, North Carolina, students participated in service-learning and emerged as community leaders by directly addressing the local impact of the pandemic. The “Corona Relief Crew” collaborated with volunteers and vendors to create and distribute kits with essential food and supplies for the homeless and those in nursing homes who have been severely impacted by the pandemic.
“Being an adult leader for the Corona Relief Crew has caused a paradigm shift in how I view youth strength and their ability to lead,” educator Dr. Cleopatra Lacewell shared. “This experience has taught me that when students have well-organized plans, identified goals, and established team structures, they can then perform as stellar leaders with minimum support.”
The Corona Relief Crew was also honored in 2020 with Lead4Change’s $10,000 grand prize for their initiative.
For more information about the Lead4Change Student Leadership Program, visit lead4change.org.
With a service-learning project, students can gain a sense of purpose, lead real change in their local community and maintain a sense of unity that is integral during challenging times. Lead4Change offers equitable solutions across all student platforms through printed, PDF or Google Doc lessons. Choose one or a combination to ensure all students have the lessons in the format they need. To register, for FREE access to lessons and resources, visit lead4change.org/register.
The Lead4Change Student Leadership Program was created by the Foundation for Impact on Literacy and Learning and the Lift a Life Novak Family Foundation to encourage middle and high school students to hone leadership skills by completing a service project around a community need involving a public nonprofit.