As educators we do a good job of teaching academics, but at the high school level, adding in social-emotional learning can be more challenging. Research shows that heart and mind learning is interconnected and our brains are meant for compassion and empathy. So how can we teach this and make it meaningful for our students?
Teaching the heart has become a critical part of our culture at Heritage Woods Secondary, and it all starts with a program called YPI: The Youth & Philanthropy Initiative. YPI is a charitable foundation on a mission to grow compassionate communities by connecting secondary students to social issues, local charities and philanthropy at a pivotal stage in their adolescence. The impact of this program, which we run every year with all 350 grade tens, has had a ripple effect for our students throughout their high school experience, as well as for our staff and others in our community. In the same way that other schools might be known for their football or music programs, because of YPI at the Grade 10 level and the resulting philanthropic programs that students initiate in Grades 11 and 12, Heritage Woods Secondary has a solid reputation for social responsibility and philanthropy education.
Every school that participates in YPI is provided with a grant of $5,000 that goes to a local charity chosen by students. At our school, as part of our grade ten Career Life Education course, students arrange themselves in small groups (3 to 5 people) then pick a grassroots, social service charity in our community to visit, based on a social issue that interests them. This real life experience of going into the community to visit a charity and seeing first-hand what they do is what makes this project so powerful. Students learn about people who are marginalized and are facing challenges and meet people who are dedicating their lives to helping others. For many students, this is eye-opening; they were previously unaware of the hardships people face right here in their own backyard. YPI helps them to understand how privileged they are in ways that I could never teach them in the classroom.
After their visit, students create a ten-minute presentation which advocates for their charity and specifically details how a $5,000 grant would make a difference to the organization. The classroom presentations are more powerful and impactful than any presentation that they do in high school, because their hearts are deeply invested in their charity. The top eight presentations then participate in a final competition in our theatre in front of the entire grade 10 population and a panel of judges made up of a majority of senior students who presented in their grade 10 year. The winning group receives $5000 to give to their charity. This entire process is a win-win. Our students realize the power of their voices, and an awareness is spread for these small grassroots charities, many of whom cannot afford to have flashy marketing campaigns. Furthermore, it is the catalyst that often inspires students to do philanthropic work for the rest of their lives.
In over twelve years of participating in YPI at Heritage Woods, more than 3,600 students have gone through the program. With groups of around five, this means that in total, 720 presentations have been given, and an additional 36,000 people have learned about social issues and local charities.1 At $5,000 per year, Heritage Woods students have directed $60,000 to charities in our community! We are so proud of this contribution. And this is just our school—YPI has given $15.5 million to charities internationally over the past 16 years through their school program.
But the story doesn’t end there.
After the first year of this project, an outreach club called KWAP (Kodiaks With A Purpose) was formed when a group of students expressed a desire to continue their philanthropic work in their senior high school years. To this day, KWAP bursts at the seams with over 150 students. And now we have three full sections of Independent Directed Studies classes tied to philanthropy. From helping animal rescue charities by hosting a dog show, to putting on a welcome tea for new immigrant and refugee families, there is no end to the philanthropic projects our students can create when given the opportunity.
This year, a group of 13 students took on a school-wide project called Move 4 MANA which was launched on World Food Day. The group challenged our entire school to get active and tracked calories burned by participants with a mobile app. For every 500 calories burned, a packet of MANA (Mother Administered Nutritive Aid: a Ready to Use Therapeutic Food or RUTF which is peanut based) was sent to Somalia to support the lives of children suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition. The impact was huge: students burned 8,216,300 calories, earning 16,023 packages of MANA, supporting 106 Somalian children. Looking ahead, it is the hope of our students that this project will spread across Canada.
The inspiration for all these projects came from our students’ YPI experience when they realized the power of their own voices and that when the heart is engaged, actions become more meaningful and impactful.
1On average, each team of five tells another 50 people in total. Source: YPI’s Annual Post-Program Evaluation Student Surveys
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
A long-time educator, Marilyn Nunn currently leads the Career Life Education program at Heritage Woods Secondary School in Port Moody, BC. She also sponsors KWAP and teaches the IDS Philanthropy classes. Contact info: email@example.com
Kate Gatto is the National Program Director at YPI Canada. She holds a Master of Education from Brock University, where she studied the social and cultural contexts of education. Kate has over ten years of experience in the non-profit sector managing local, national, and global education programs that develop leadership skills and encourage civic engagement among students.
YPI Canada is currently accepting nominations and applications for new schools to participate in the 2018-2019 school year. Learn more about YPI at goypi.org.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Spring 2018 issue.