By Danielle Nelson
*This article is posted on The Spirit of Penn’s Garden website.
Chants echoed throughout Girard College’s gymnasium on Saturday, June 4.
The words “Young Heroes, thank you,” were just some of the chants that rang out as students and teachers from 13 schools celebrated their completion of year-long Young Heroes Outreach Program (YHOP), which was organized by the National Liberty Museum for the fifth consecutive year.
The students from grades four through eight across the Philadelphia School District covered various issues that affected their schools and communities.
Students from Alain Locke Elementary School in West Philly chose littering as their topic because Anyia White, a fifth grader, said it was something they saw everyday in their school hallways, classrooms and school yard. So White and her classmates decided to talk to their principal and teachers. With their support, the students took action. The students started making morning and afternoon announcements and posting flyers to alert the student body about the need to clean up their school.
“We started cleaning up the school yard every Friday,” White said. “We had the students sign a petition and if they signed it they can help to clean up the school yard.”
“The littering was also preventing us from playing in the gym often because there was a lot of trash,” she added. “So we decided to go in the gym and started cleaning up and put the trash in the trash and recycling bin and if the principal saw the students littering, she would give them a detention.”
Tiffany Smith, a fifth grade teacher at Alain Locke, said that while this is their first year participating in the YHOP, she hopes the students who were in the group this year can continue to set an example in keeping their school clean as they move on to a higher grade.
“This year’s fifth graders, who will be next year’s sixth graders, have now set the foundation,” Smith said. “Even if they don’t do the right thing every time, I think, they will keep in mind what they have learnt about littering. So whenever they see a trash they can pick it up.”
When the students who were involved in the YHOP at Joseph J. Greenberg Elementary School in the Northeast were deciding which topic they wanted to do over a year ago, their advisor Katherine Volin said there was a lot of interest in the Philadelphia School Dustrict’s funding.
“They have really lived through a lot of [budget] cuts for the past few years,” Volin said. “They saw their teachers get laid off, their clubs being taken away and many other things that affected their learning and that were unfair to them.”
Initially, the students in the program focused on their school but as the year went on, interest in their project drew a larger audience as it got the attention of community officials.
The students then started a social media campaign and set up Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts to publicly highlight the topic of unequal school funding. Volin said a local state representative wants the students to visit Harrisburg to speak to other state representatives about the disparages in school funding between different school districts in the state.
Throughout the five years, there are three schools that have been there since the program started. One of them is St. Francis de Sales Elementary School in West Philly, which had two groups of six graders participating this year. One of the topics they chose was domestic violence among sports athletes. Christian Walker, a six grader, said the project was fun because it made him think differently about social issues.
“Not a lot of people think [domestic violence] is that serious,” Walker said.
Those topics were just a snippet of subjects that were tackled within the 16 different groups in 13 Philadelphia schools. The year-long project started with schools applying to YHOP, where schools apply with the understanding that a teacher should be willing to teach some of the social issues that affect their students and community at large in the classroom.
The program entails a ten-week curriculum, which Alan Holmes, the outreach coordinator for the National Liberty Museum, described an “alternative social studies class.”
“We give these lessons about character development and education, civics and their amendment rights,” Holmes said.
After the students are finished with the curriculum, those who want to continue can start their own Young Heroes club, choose a topic to focus on, research it and educate their school and community about what they found.
Gwen Borowsky, the CEO of the National Liberty Museum, said over the five years they have done the program there are always the same topics that are covered each year such as lack of school funding, anti-bullying, gun violence and racism, but also acknowledge that there were new topics presented this year. This year students toppled topics like animal abuse (specifically elephants) and sex education.
As the National Liberty Museum looks to next year, Holmes said he has a long-term goal for the program.
“I would love to get to high school,” Holmes said. “The social studies element, civics education, when you focus on that, we could really get into high school.”
Do you know an outstanding young citizen who identified an area where liberty was lacking and took action to make positive change in his or her local school or community? Thennominate him or her for the 2016 TD Bank Young Heroes Award.
For the past 16 years, the awards has been reserved for young people who have championed liberty through civic engagement, conflict resolution, promoting diversity, and school or community leadership.
All winners receive recognition at an awards ceremony at the Museum; a certificate, medallion and gifts; and a plaque featuring their story in the Museum’s Young Heroes Exhibit. One winner is named the President’s Honor Winner and receives a monetary scholarship.
The nomination period is open and runs through June 24. http://www.libertymuseum.org/young-heroes-award-2016/
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