Sunday, October 26, 2014

Everyone Has Their (social justice) Issues

After spending a few weeks reading and discussing homelessness, the cycle of poverty, and the minimum wage with my classes, we wrapped things up with a small action project.  At the end of the year, we will do a much bigger version of this, with a lot more student choice.  For now, we wanted to try and keep things simple.

Students were given a few different opportunities to show their knowledge about homelessness and try to engage others in creating a change.  Some students wrote songs, poems or stories depicting their newly developed ideas about homelessness and the struggles than many people face on a daily basis when trying to avoid becoming homeless.  Other students created informative videos, fact sheets, flyers, etc... A few unique projects included a powerpoint presentation informing others about the help that is out there for those living in poverty.  This group of girls decided to visit a local food pantry, volunteer, and interview the woman who ran the food program! I was so impressed with their efforts! Another group created a website.  Once most kids turned in their projects, we linked their projects to the website (this can be found under the "Other Projects" tab).  If you are interested in taking a look, here is the LINK.  Some other students also wrote letters to their principal and assistant principal asking to host a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity!

I'll forgo the suspense, and let you know that the fundraiser was approved!  We shared my students' projects throughout the week to the 6th and 7th grade students, and at the end of the week all students were allowed to wear a purple shirt (apparently the color associated with homelessness awareness) if they donated $1.  We raised $180!  This isn't too shabby for our first endeavor, but next time, I think we will aim for more!

As we wound things down in this unit, and I began to introduce the upcoming unit, I mentioned to my students that they might not feel connected or moved by every issue we discuss. Though I have some students who are sympathetic to their core, I don't think it is possible to "take on" every cause personally.  For me, the issues or hunger and homelessness are very close to my heart.  From a very young age, my mom started taking me with her when she volunteered at a local baptist church that hosted a soup kitchen once a week.  Our temple was just a few minutes away and had developed a relationship with the church.  I had a very important of my job. I passed out the to-go lunch bags to the visitors as they left.

Years later, I was able to revisit this church, which still operated a weekly soup kitchen, and continued to partner with my temple.  This time, I came with a different agenda.  I was inspecting the facility! Yes, believe it or not, before I became a teacher, I held a variety of other jobs.  One of which was an agency relations representative for The Greater Chicago Food Depository.  My job was to build relationships with the shelters, food pantries and soup kitchens that worked to provide services for those in need.  I would help them get grants for new refrigerators, sign them up for classes at our "Pantry University", make sure their monthly orders went through, and to ensure that their facilities were in good condition.

When I arrived with my clipboard in hand, I immediately introduced myself to the coordinator and explained that I was familiar with their site and had volunteered years prior.  Within minutes, before I had a chance to really know what was going on, I was serving food in an extremely efficient assembly line.

Although I no longer work at GCFD, and it is pretty impossible to serve the Tuesday lunch at the soup kitchen, my family and I volunteer every Thanksgiving day at another church in Rogers Park.   Because I was introduced to this issue at such a young age, and my family helped me understand the gravity of the problem in society, I have continued to keep this issue close to my heart.  Although I secretly hope all of my kids walked away from this unit feeling deeply, personally inspired to create change in regards to hunger and homelessness, I understand that is isn't quite possible.  But I do hope that through the course of the year, they will find one issue that truly reaches them, inspiring them to become a social justice superhero!

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