Our Children as Leaders
On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico, causing mass destruction and devastation to the island and its people. Almost all communication was cut off; electricity, running water and other amenities were not recovered for months. We know that there are areas of Puerto Rico even today that have not recovered, and some that may never be rebuilt. People did not have access to working hospitals, to clean water, to dialysis and oxygen machines. Federal aid was lagging.
1,748 miles away, our children were safe, warm and dry. They had heard about or seen pictures of the impact of the recent hurricanes, but few realized the enormity of the situation. Our children, like many other children in our world, are, in some ways, privileged. This is not something they should be embarrassed about, but it is something they have to own and treat with caution and great intention.
Part of our educational vision at Akiva is that our children work not only to impact the Jewish community but to engage and care about our entire world. As we know, this is something that has to come from deep within each and every soul. While we provide our children with opportunities to create meaningful change in their world and in the worlds of those around them, we must also provide them with the structures that enhance the likelihood that they will initiate these changes. Once they leave our school, our children need to have the knowledge, persistence and confidence to be changemakers.
Every morning, our kindergarten to sixth grade classes gather together in our chapel for morning assembly. This is a 10- to 15-minute experience where we learn something together as a community. About a week after Hurricane Maria hit, we used morning assembly to learn about the situation in Puerto Rico, and the students were offered a charge: “Over the course of this day, let us know if you think you want to do something.” That day, eight students from four grades decided they wanted to use their power productively.
They founded Kids4Kids, a student-led group with the goal to help children around the world. They developed a plan to raise money, and we connected them to a young activist, Erin Schrode, who had been working in Puerto Rico serving meals to those in need after Hurricane Maria. Erin came to speak and reminded our children that they should and could make a difference. Kids4Kids challenged Erin to find them a way in which they could impact Puerto Rico’s children, and she connected them to an orphanage in Bayamon whose children had lost their roof. This was the start of a successful $1,000 campaign to raise a roof for a children’s orphanage in Puerto Rico. Our children raised the money and a roof was built soon after. They saw the work of their hands being used productively for positive change for children in Puerto Rico. The money was mailed directly to the orphanage, and the children exchanged pictures of themselves at their places of learning.
This year, Kids4Kids has 22 members and has teamed up with Crayola’s Color Cycle campaign to keep plastic out of landfills by converting markers into fuel. Kids4Kids has worked with the local preschools and the greater Nashville community to collect more than 600 markers thus far, and the group is now considering its next project. Teaching our children to engage their privilege is crucial for their sense of self, and watching them courageously take the lead is a reminder that children are often the best models of effective action.