When the students of Crazy Horse High School in South Dakota decided to take action in their community they were competing against the odds. Ninety-seven percent of their neighbors live in poverty. On the reservation where they grew up, young people are especially affected by unusually high rates of unemployment, alcoholism, school dropouts, even suicide. While over 80% of their peers in South Dakota get their high school diplomas, less than half of all students of Native American descent make it to graduation day; a historical achievement gap between Native students and their peers that sadly persists in other parts of the Americas as well. What made these kids think that they could create meaningful change on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, their home?
Blame an energetic, young teacher armed with a powerful lesson plan.
Jaimie Gua, a Teach for America corps member, perfectly understood the problems her students’ were observing in their community. She too grew up on a reservation. It was precisely because of these problems that she decided to become a teacher. She wanted to give back, and she understood that part of giving back was coming back home to, in Gandhi’s words, “be the change” she wished to see. She wanted to instill in her students the same desire to contribute to their community, as well as the confidence in their abilities to create change. Ms. Gua was introduced to Design for Change, a global youth empowerment program that gives students the opportunity to put their ideas into action. The program provided the perfect framework for the work Ms. Gua and her students wanted to do together for their community.
Design for Change (DFC) has developed a curriculum that gives students the framework to identify and develop solutions to problems in their own communities. Students from over 300,000 schools in 34 countries have participated in the Design for Change Challenge with projects that address a wide range of issues from pollution to drug addiction, illiteracy to bullying.
At first Ms. Gua’s class didn’t know where to start. The problems facing their community seemed overwhelming, insurmountable. There were many interrelated issues that they wanted to tackle. So, using the DFC framework, they began to disentangle them. They were struck by the reality that too many of their peers dropped out of school and fell into addiction. But why were they resorting to drugs and alcohol? After thoughtful discussion and analysis, they determined that the culprit was boredom. Students didn’t see themselves, their culture, reflected in the classroom. They didn’t feel a sense of community at school. Ms. Gua’s class also concluded that to prevent this, they would have to start early. So they designed a program for the community targeting young children and their families and incorporating activities that celebrated the traditions and culture of the Oglala Lakota Sioux nation. This gave children, their parents and community elders an opportunity to honor their heritage and feel valued in the school setting.
Their efforts to have an impact in their small community made a big impact in the global community. Their project won the national 2013 Design for Change Challenge. Their prize? A life-changing trip to Guajarat, India where they proudly represented the United States at DFC’s annual Be the Change Conference. The first stamp on their first passports would leave an indelible impression on these students for the rest of their lives, and their story continues to inspire others.
Originally published on the Graduate XXI website: http://www.graduatexxi.org/en/disena-el-cambio/