Students Become Social Advocates First Hand

Exhibition fairs – the epitome of every child’s middle school science project completed the night with help from a parent. But, what if exhibition fairs were used as events to showcase long term learning and social advocacy from involving students in their community? A few Des Moines metro schools are doing just this. Park Avenue Elementary School and Waukee Prairieview School both invited members of our team to attend their exhibition days and to work with the students.

​Months before their exhibition, a handful of team members ventured to Park Avenue Elementary to help kick off their projects with students, teachers, and a culture not found in an A-typical school. After our first presentation of sharing about student action in Iowa, a 5th grade boy came up to me and said, “That’s stupid.” I responded inquisitively, “What’s stupid?” “That they fired that teacher and don’t make a law to protect gay people.” He was referencing when I told them the story of how one of our team members, Liam, held a walk-out at his Catholic school protesting the firing of a recently hired gay teacher.

After that, their teachers would tell the 5th graders in the morning that their IowaSLI friends were coming and they were so enthusiastic not only for our visit, but to have the opportunity to follow their curiosities. To learn in school what they were interested in and wanted to do. Thankfully, their International Baccalaureate school allows for this type of learning year-round. But, what about our public school friends?

8th Graders at Waukee Prairieview invited us to collaborate on their “Change The World” projects. Justin worked with a student that wanted to start a student voice club and learn more about the movement nationally. Other topics were outstandingly complex for typical conversations happening at their age. Students did research on social issues such as:

They did much more than research – they worked with local nonprofits to learn about the refugee crisis in Des Moines, met with Iowa Cubs baseball employees to talk about gender stereotypes affect gender inequality in their workplace, they discussed with a Des Moines police officer of the effects of vandalism and how to stop it. They dug into all that their community has to offer and offered their insights back to the community during their exhibition days.

I’m proud these students took on tough and pressing topics. I’m thankful they included us to help them in making connections in their community. I’m hoping that every student has an opportunity to tap into their curiosities in school. I know you'll choose to help them. “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” –Steve Jobs