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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Going from Me to We

The following is a "guest post" by Erin Quinn who is an outstanding teacher at Samuel W. Shaw School in Calgary, Alberta.  Erin is someone that I have had the opportunity to learn a LOT from through her blog at and through twitter, where you can follow her - @luckybydesign.  This post, about their "Me to We" Club and the heartwarming stories that accompany it, is absolutely amazing!!!  This is great evidence that our students can truly CHANGE THE WORLD if we give them the opportunity!  This is an excellent example of ComPassion-Based Learning

Going from Me to We
by:  Erin Quinn

Compassion is built through service. When students have the opportunity to be active participants in building a strong global community, their empathy and understanding of others increases. I have never seen this exhibit itself so powerfully as I did this year in our school's first Me to We Club.

Me to We is a simple concept: switching from a selfish mindset to one that cares about others. Isn't that what compassion is all about? In September, a couple of colleagues and I decided to form a Me to We Club at Samuel W. Shaw School in Calgary, Alberta. SWS is a middle school, and we wanted to give our students an authentic opportunity to be the change they wanted to see in the world. So we put the call out to students in grades 5 through 9, and got about forty shamelessly idealistic kids at our first meeting!

Me to We Club

Our Me to We Club partnered with Free the Children as our platform for change. Free the Children's story inspired us - when he was twelve years old, Canadian Craig Kielburger was flipping through the newspaper and learned about a boy named Iqbal Masih from Pakistan who was sold into slavery at age four and who spent the rest of his life weaving carpets. At age twelve, Iqbal spoke out against child labour. Shortly thereafter, he was killed by those trying to silence his protests. Craig Kielburger read the story and was deeply unsettled by it. He knew that it was wrong, and so he stood up in his seventh grade classroom and asked others to join him. With a small group of classmates, Craig started his Free the Children club, and the roots of the organization took hold. Now, Free the Children works in 45 different countries to transform the lives of people worldwide. First and foremost, Free the Children aims to empower young people in developed and developing countries alike to be change-makers in their communities and around the world.

We Day

Our club of forty dwindled down to a core group of about thirty kids who were passionate about their role in changing the world. The kickoff for them happened in October when they got to go to We Day. What's We Day?

Exciting, right?! Free the Children holds We Day in cities across Canada, the United States, and the UK. We went to We Day at the Saddledome in Calgary with 20,000 other students. The stadium was packed with kids excited about taking action to create change. The stage was shared by entertainers, speakers, and Craig Kielburger and his brother Marc - all talking about how much they care about local and global issues. We got to hear Martin Sheen talk about activism, and Larry King talk about people he's met through his talk show who have inspired him. Performances from the bands Marianas Trench, Hedley, and Lights were interspersed with speeches from Free the Children speakers Molly Burke, an inspirational young woman who lost her sight in her teens and persisted through bullying, and Spencer West, who lost his legs to a genetic disorder when he was a toddler, and who has since climbed Mount Kilimanjaro by walking on his hands. Our students left We Day feeling empowered and impassioned.

Note: The We Day website has great videos and resources to use, even if you don't have a We Day near you.

Me to We Campaigns

From there, our students committed to doing at least one local and one global action during the school year. Free the Children makes this easy for teachers as they have organized campaigns that can be used and adapted to suit your students' needs. They even have curriculum developed for activities and lessons that can enhance the campaigns.

Here's what our Me to We Club organized throughout the school year:
  • We Scare Hunger. In addition for trick-or-treating for candy, many of our students trick-or-treated for donations to our local food bank. Students also brought in other items to school for our food drive. The students were able to raise over 1000lbs of food for the Calgary Food Bank!
  • We Are Love. Instead of selling candygrams for Valentine's Day, the students sold buttons. Students could send a button to a friend, and all proceeds went to support Free the Children development programs. We raised about $130 through this campaign.
  • We Create Change. This was the biggest and most successful campaign. Since the Canadian government was phasing out the penny, we launched this campaign to gather up all the pennies we could! Each classroom had a big water jug in it, and kids would collect pennies and drop them off in their classrooms. Then, we transferred the pennies to bags provided to us from Free the Children. Each bag was worth $25. In the end, our school filled 37 bags, or $925 to provide clean water in developing countries. $25 brings clean water to one person for the rest of their life, so we were able to give clean water to 37 people! The kickoff to this campaign was what made it so successful. See below for more information about our first SWS Water Day! Here's a photo of the bags of pennies in my trunk, on their way to the bank:

  • We Are Silent. Our club members, and other students who chose to participate, pledged to spend April 17th in complete silence, and stand in solidarity of those who do not have a voice. Each student who participated chose a cause that meant something to them, which ranged from things like child labour to girls' access to education to bullying. Students collected pledges from friends and family to sponsor their vow of silence. Our school raised $1300 to donate to Free the Children! (I did it too! I spent an entire 24 hours without talking. Let me tell you: teaching a class of grade 8 students was really challenging without being able to talk! I had my lessons all planned in advance and the students came in, found their instructions on the board, and got to work. I had to use a lot of sign language and nodding and shaking my head yes or no.)
As a side note, you may be wondering what Free the Children does with the money we raise for them. Their international development strategy is called Adopt a Village. In this model, Free the Children uses five core pillars to end poverty: Education, Water and Sanitation, Health, Alternative Income and Livelihood, and Agriculture and Food Security. Free the Children works on developing all five pillars in a community to ensure its sustainability. We love Free the Children, too, because they use only 6% of their overall budget for administration costs. The rest goes directly to their work in international development.

What I Learned

The two most successful campaigns we did were We Create Change and We Are Silent, and the reason why these were successful was because students experienced activities that helped them become emotionally involved in the cause. You know those ads on TV that have starving children with distended bellies? They're sad, right? But they're just images, and they don't allow us to connect with the cause.

In our We Create Change campaign, we kicked things off with our first SWS Water Day. Attached are the instructions we gave teachers. Please feel free to adapt them to suit your own school if you'd like to give it a go. In a nutshell: each student in the school randomly drew a ticket, which determined if you lived in Country A, Country B, or Country C. 80% of students were from Country B, with 10% each in Country A and Country C. This corresponds to the world's access to water. The Country you were "from" also meant you were Two Cookie People, One Cookie People, or Zero Cookie People. At break, students received their allotted amount of cookies. Yes, that meant that some students received NO cookies! Students also received a cup. Country A people had a big red Solo cup. Country B people had a small dentist cup. And Country C people had a small shot glass. Two water jugs were set up, one way at the far end of the school, and one more centrally located. Country A people could fetch their drinking water for the day from any water fountain and any water jug. Country B people could access either of the two water jugs. And Country C people had to go to the furthest water jug to get water. Yes, this was a bit disruptive to learning that day. That was the whole point! In this simulation, students experienced what unequal access to clean drinking water felt like. To further reinforce the message, all students played The Country Game in Phys Ed that day. Again, feel free to download and adapt as you wish.

In We Are Silent, students experienced how difficult it was to spend their day in silence. They understood how frustrating it would be to be a child somewhere in the world whose rights were taken away. They knew what it felt like to be misunderstood. They knew what it felt like to be ignored. And this just made them more passionate about social justice and service.

What's Next

Next year, we are trying out a Me to We option class, which will enhance the students' global citizenship. I am planning on incorporating much more of the experiential learning described above to connect students to the issue and help them feel the importance of the work they are doing. I am really looking forward to building upon the amazing work the students did this year to create a world worth living in!





  1. This was truly awesome!!!!!! The students were highly engaged and felt good about doing something for others. Soooo glad to be a part of it.
    Kate Steinfeld

  2. This is a wonderful story. You are doing AMAZING THINGS!!!