“Make That Change”: Eighth Graders Learn Community Action from History Lesson

At first glance, Michael Jackson and the 1800 American reform movement have little in common.

Until you talk with Sara Krzyczkowski’s eighth grade social studies classes at Stilwell Junior High.

Jackie, one of Ms. Krzyczkowski’s students, takes a break from looking at several poster boards displayed throughout her classroom with the words “The Problem” and “How We Solved It” written across the top. In the background, the King of Pop sings, “…gonna make a difference, gonna make it right…” from his song, “Man in the Mirror.”

The song is about making a change. So was the 1800s reform movement, Jackie says.

A couple of weeks ago her class began learning about the 1800s, Jackie explains. During those years, there were a number of grassroots social change movements in America. “It included women’s rights, mental illness (care reform), temperance and education,” she says.

Ms. Krzyczkowski wanted to make these historical events more relevant to her 21st century students. So, she asked them to do some research about their own community. She asked them to identify a need in their city.

She then asked her students to see if a group or organization was already meeting that need. If not, she challenged them to do something about it. “I wanted them to see what they could do as 13- and 14-year-olds and see how they could inspire others,” Ms. Krzyczkowski says.

Eighth grader K.J. had an idea. She thought of a girl she had played softball with who had recently died from a brain tumor. She knew there were kids in the hospital going through a serious illness and she wanted to help them in some way. K.J., Jackie and their classmate Rhea decided to do just that.

They got a wish list of toys from young patients at Blank Children’s Hospital. Then, they raised money by holding a bake sale at school and putting posters up in their neighborhoods that explained what they were doing. “We raised a lot more than we thought we would,” K.J. explained. They raised $130 and collected 15 toys, which they provided to the hospital.

“I wanted them to see what they could do as 13- and 14-year-olds and see how they could inspire others.” – Ms. Krzyczkowski, Stilwell

Their classmate Brittany had similar success. She also wanted to provide toys, but for children with disabilities. She enlisted the help of her brother, Jordan, who is a member of the Valley robotics team. Together, they modified toys so that a child with a physical disability can maneuver and play with them.

Paige, another Stilwell eighth grader, also inspired others to help her with her class project. She gathered 10 of her fellow show choir members to perform for seniors at a local assisted living center. A few of those recruits were Stilwell seventh graders.

For Paige, the lesson gave her a new perspective on the historical events. “I like the fact that we understand the reform movements did not just happen,” she explains. “Someone had to stand up and put actions to it.”

Rhea also understands and adds, “It feels really good to help and to make a change.”