Students in Susheela Robinson and Dresden Koons’ English elective classes were invited to opt out of reading one book this spring and, instead, utilize all the skills they have learned in their English classes to design a solution benefitting a cause that was personally meaningful to them.
The Make a Difference Project inspired students to take a closer look at challenges like combating antisemitism, racial injustice, and mental illness, and then pitch an idea they themselves could implement to bring about change. Solutions included a food truck that would deliver fresh produce to food deserts, outdoor experiential learning programs as a form of alternative education, and veterinary services for pets cared for by the homeless.
Robinson, who was named the 2020 Finneran Faculty Scholar, the highest recognition for a St. Andrew’s teacher, said she designed the project with her students in mind, striving to meet them in this uncommon moment and offer them a novel opportunity to demonstrate their research, writing, and rhetorical skills.
“Part of being in the moment with the students where they are is constantly reinventing what’s happening [in the classroom] to be relevant to where students are,” Robinson said. “I wanted [the MAD Project] to be about something this year, a pandemic year when students needed to have a sense of hope and autonomy.”
“We live our lives and see all these problems, but we never think of a solution that will actually work,” said Caleb EganFrei ’21, who, with Joe Anillo ’21, created a conservation challenge that incentivizes people to reduce their energy usage. “When we’re young, we have these projects where we come up with solutions that can be far-fetched. Coming up with something realistic is really beneficial to us because it helps prepare us for life.”
For each project, students prepared an argument for their cause, delivered a pitch, defined success for their solution, interviewed experts, connected with mentors, presented to their peers, and reflected on their experience, all while documenting their process and citing their sources.
Kayla Bobb ’21 researched antisemitism on college campuses and interviewed University of Delaware student Alex Beigelman on the burning of the campus Chabad house in August 2020 and the aftermath. For her solution, Bobb pitched a series of informational sessions hosted by campus Jewish organizations where students and faculty could learn more about Judaism and how to prevent antisemitism.
She said completing this project has influenced how she practices her faith. “Coming across this topic and doing the project made me more invested in it,” Bobb said. “I’m considering joining Hillel in college and learning more about my religion and history.”
Samantha Ojeme ‘21 and Sophie Kowitz ‘21 chose autism rights for children as their cause and connected with alumna Caroline Kiernan ’03 to learn more.
"Working and talking with Caroline deepened my understanding about advocating for kids with autism,” Ojeme said. “I realized that while advocating and educating people about resources is important, it makes a huge difference if kids are taught about autism from a young age and given spaces in which they can interact with kids who are different from them. We often see different spaces for kids of different abilities, but Caroline talked to us about how it can be even more beneficial for everyone if there are activities and spaces where everyone can interact together."
Asia Quarles chose racial inequity in Washington, D.C. as her cause and connected with the non-profit Empower D.C. to deepen her understanding of gentrification and its impact on low income populations. She wrote a pledge to stand up for injustice and combat systemic racism as her call to action; to conclude her presentation, Quarles invited her classmates to recite it with her.
“Just saying the words and acknowledging it makes a big difference,” Quarles said. “The moment was so nice and I was very surprised. Hearing people repeat it after you… hearing it from people who don’t look like me, it’s a good feeling.”