Empowering Children

Becoming Community-Activists
Mary Bencini

I try to teach my second graders to be activists at our school, in our community, and even nationally and globally. I read interesting articles from the local newspaper to my kids daily and each child also gets Time For Kids. Both of these activities help to give my ideas on how to be activists. During Circle Time I also encourage my kids to bring problems and ideas to the group to discuss and problem solve if necessary. Many times the problems and ideas from Circle Time result in the kids writing letters to the principal or to our school's PTO or student council. I have found that kids absolutely love being activists and the things we do as a class are not only authentic, but also involve reading, writing, and math. Not only have I learned to look for opportunities for kids to be activists, but the kids are also great at looking for opportunies. Here are some of the things kids have done in the past two years:
1) Wrote a letter to the President about their opinions about the war with Iraq.
2) Worked with the first graders as buddies to help them hang and put away their winter wear up on hooks and put their boots against the wall. This happened after my kids were upset about the messiness of kids' belongings all over the hall.
3) Did a Read-A-Thon for a local high school girl who received a heart transplant. The uncle of one of my students was the man who tragically died in a car accident and gave his heart to the high school girl.
4) Everyone brought in 100 pennies on Hundred's Day and then donated the money to buy an animal for the organization, Heifer International. (Heifer International has a wonderful web site for kids about world hunger)
5) Volunteered time on weekends with their parents to help build the new riverfront park in Geneva, which is being built and funded by volunteers
6) Earned money at home to buy books for an inner city classroom. The kids earned $400.00 and another $200.00 was donated by parents or relatives who heard what we were doing. The kids then went to the bookstore and selected the books.
7) After reading an article about nutrition in Time For Kids and Weekly Reader the wrote letters to our school nurse telling her their ideas on how to make our school lunch program more healthy.
8) Wrote letters to the PTO asking the members to put the girl who received the heart transplant on the list of organizations that our school's annual spring Walk-A-Thon will benefit from. The kids also selected a group of kids who went to the PTO meeting to explain what they wanted to do.
9) Our class collects pop can tabs for Ronald McDonald House. Every year we send four or five huge boxes of tabs to this organization. Once or twice every year the kids also spend the day counting the tabs. They love this activity and it gives them an idea of huge numbers.
10) During computer time the kids regularly e-mail our city's mayor, our state's govenor, and our state senators and representative about their concerns about certain issues. Any child in my room can tell you who these elected officials are.
11) Counted safety pins and leaflets for our two gently used clothing sale sponsored by our PTO.
12) Sponsored a gently used book drive for our school to get books for inner city kids. Our school sent 25 huge boxes of books to these kids.
13) Write letters to the principal about their concerns and ideas.

Mary Bencini is a second grade teacher in Geneva, Illinois. She has been teaching for over thirty years. Mary has two master degrees from National-Louis University.

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