By: Nadia Sarkarat
In my third year of teaching Social Justice, this project personally felt different to me. It has been most different because my students are so young so without their parents help and insight, it would be impossible to truly impact our students. In the past, I have left the decisions up to the students while trying to facilitate conversations. This year, I have to really include and depend on our parents to have these discussions with our/their children. This makes me that much more excited, because in the end it makes us all more aware and makes us all better leaders.
The biggest thing I have learned are what my students’ problems are in their communities. I look back at my life, where I grew up, and what my community was like. There were no signs of drugs, violence, drinking, SHOOTING, homelessness. -In fact, I have never in my 29 years of existence heard a gun shot except for on television…………….yet many of my students at the young ages of five or six can say they have….or they know someone who has died from a gun shot.
I have never seen homelessness until I was in the big city of Toronto on a hockey trip at the age of 16. I remember one of the mom’s crying at the sight of a homeless man, sleeping on a vent on the sidewalk, his shoes off placed right next to him, trying to stay warm in the winter. I remember her saying, “this is somebodies son.” I didn’t understand her tears then, but I sure do now…especially when I see it daily in our great big city of Chicago. In the morning when I hop on Lake Shore Drive, I see many homeless people sleeping on the grass with their bags of belongings. It is a very different feeling……while driving to work…..to see that. It really makes me think about how thankful I am to be up at 7:00A.M. with a job to go to, hopefully helping others reach their potential, and their dreams and goals – whatever they may be.
The most amazing part of this experience has been talking with my students about what problems they see in their communities. Many students knew exactly what they (or their parents) wrote on their papers and had discussed with their families. It was really awesome to discuss: What does drugs means? What does smoking mean? Why are these things bad? Why do you care? I was shocked to hear how many students were affected by these problems. -Problems that I never saw or knew about until at least 8 years later in life. My ignorance to the problems that exist still amazes me every day. -That I had no idea. –That MANY people have no idea still. Yet here are my loving, beautiful, smart, YOUNG students who are affected by these things.
After our discussion I asked students to think about which problems they care about most and share with the class. We came up with: bullying, drinking soda pop, drugs, drinking alcohol, and shooting. We then discussed: which one affects us most? It was very hard to say that anyone does drugs, that anyone smokes – but some of our mom’s do and we really don’t like it and we wish they would stop, that anyone shoots anyone, and they know that their parents drink alcohol but they are not really sure what it means or why it is bad. Students did point out that we all drink soda pop sometimes. Themselves. Me. Ms. McGee. Their parents. Their siblings. Soda pop is often seen at parties which leads to a special sort of feeling to have soda pop. This also strings a chord within me as I am also trying to stop drinking soda pop because it truly is NOT good for you. Our conversation came to a “challenge” – to see if we can ALL stop drinking soda pop – including their teachers. This means no more going down to the store to grab a pop! This means no more buying pop. Period. Which means drinking a lot more water, which is actually really great, because water is truly the best thing for you. When the students wanted to challenge us, and themselves, their eyes lit up. It was decided: we will become researchers and figure out why soda pop is so bad for us and why we should stop drinking it. -And we are going to make our whole school aware. -And we are going to try to be the example and stop drinking it ourselves. but we can’t do this until we understand why we should stop drinking it.
These conversations led us to our next step: to go home and research with our families facts about soda pop and write one fact down. Students came up with a great list of facts about soda pop: it has too much sugar, too many calories, it can help lead to obesity or cause diabetes, it can lead to kidney failure, it can rot your teeth, it is 50,000 more times acidic than water, and a soda can have 37 grams of sugar. We then talked about what these things mean……….and why it is bad for you.
I have recently started seeing a personal trainer and one of the things she REALLY wants me to do is to stop drinking soda. Without knowing why, or the effects, it’s truly hard to stop anything when you enjoy it. This project is going to inform our students of the dangers of soda pop and benefits of water, and hopefully help their health in the end because they will have gained the knowledge. We will hopefully be able to inform all of VLA as well, and who know who else at this point!!! Family members, maybe other schools, adults……the possibilities of our knowledge is endless! Knowledge.Is.Power. So, I am really excited for our project and can’t wait to truly inspire our students, our school, those close to our community, and be inspired/changed myself!