Unlocking the Potential of Millennials to Change Our World

Change the world

In our recent post, “Offering Our Youngest Leaders a Seat at the Table,” we asked the question, “Would students help bring about a better world if we gave them a seat at the table?”

Ten days later, we learned that the answer is, emphatically, “yes.”

This is the first in a series of weekly posts in which we share with you what it looks like when we unlock the potential of students to change our world.

On June 4 and 5, my colleague Mark Moran and I visited Downingtown STEM Academy in Pennsylvania. Our audience was a class of 300 sophomores, on the last two days of school before summer break.

When we arrived, they were scattered around the rear of the auditorium, slumped in their seats and playing with their phones. One teacher confided that students’ primary motivation for coming to school that day was to pick up their yearbook.

Not exactly prime conditions for a successful field test, right?

I opened by explaining to the students that when I ask first-graders if they think they can change the world, they all respond “yes” – and run up to the stage to tell me how.

I asked this group – which I knew had no thoughts of running up to the stage – what percentage of them would respond positively to the same question.

The answer? Two percent. Six of the 300 students would tell me they could change the world.

Over the next two days, we, and members of our community, told and showed these students that we believed in them.  Students began to sit up and listen more carefully.

“Would students help bring about a better world if we gave them a seat at the table?”

Ten days later, we learned that the answer is, emphatically, “yes.”

They began to flood the Tweet stream with excitement. Several texted their absent friends, urging them to get to school. One student, who planned to take the two days off after oral surgery, showed up with an ice pack on her face.

We weren’t done with them just yet. Several innovators Skyped in with advice. We arranged connections between the students and relevant outside experts who were active on Twitter. Mark provided legal and editorial advice and taught them to focus on a narrow idea. I taught them how to create a heartbreak map to figure out what really matters to them and made a meager investment to purchase three URLs.

How did these students react?

They began to change the world.

Three hours after we first spoke to the students, they lined up to tell more than 100 worldwide viewers, via UStream, about their genius ideas.

The following morning, several students Tweeted that they could not wait to get to school.

In our parting words, we asked the students to stand if they now believed they could change the world. All 300 of them rose as one.

As we drove back to Manhattan, they showed us. My phone erupted with messages from students. An idea had coalesced, a company had been formed and named, a logo was designed, a mission statement complete, a website was operational, a launch video had been published.

Not once. Not twice. Twelve times. In 32 hours, on the final two days of school, these students had formed 12 companies devoted to solving the world’s problems.

Justin Staub, the audacious, can-do teacher who put this program together in less than two weeks, chronicles some of the students’ work in this post.

This morning, we received the second iteration of the launch video for “Lunch Box Notes,” one of the 12 companies formed. This group of students that is resurrecting a decidedly low-tech method for conveying to others how much they matter to you: a handwritten paper note, delivered in a brown paper bag.

Many of their teachers – a group that can certainly use a morale boost these days – were the first lucky recipients.

One student, Carrie Filion, poignantly explains in the video the value of telling someone they matter and that you believe in them. Carrie described returning to school for the first time after a hospitalization, one of several she has endured recently. She opened up her lunch box to find a note from her mother that read, “Good luck Care Bear, you got this. xoxo Mom.”

Carrie explained, “I really did have it…and that note helped me understand that I matter, and I can persevere.”

As Aimee Mullins says in one of my favorite Ted Talks, “All you really need is one person to show you the epiphany of your own power and you’re off. If you can hand people the key to their own power, the human spirit is so receptive…if you open doors for people at a crucial moment, you are educating them in the best sense. You are teaching them to open doors for themselves.”

Carrie’s words show that sometimes a simple lunch box note is all it takes to show someone the epiphany of their own power.

We thank the Lunch Box Notes team for this wonderful idea, and for their determination to tell others they matter, and teach them to open doors for themselves. We also appreciate the wonderful wisdom in their video, particularly the line, “don’t be afraid to spread your kindness.”

We’re taking that advice to heart, and offering this “seat at the table” to the wonderful young leaders from Lunch Box Notes, who are only just beginning to change the world. We hope to share more of their wisdom with you soon.

Will you help support our movement to unlock the potential of students to change the world? Please consider making a small donation through our fundraiser on Indiegogo.

My life path has always been about teaching and communication. My twenty years as an educator and my passionate pursuit of literacy and learning, gave me the healthy dose of courage and skills that have led me through a wonderful variety of experiences, including classroom and University teaching, instructional coaching, research, writing, publishing, corporate training, and starting my own business.

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