How do we solve Philly’s problems? Listen to the youth
Young Heroes is a year-long curriculum that shows elementary and middle schoolers how their First Amendment rights empower them to take action in their communities.
“Sexism is everywhere, even if you don’t think about it.”
That’s a statement from Janniyah, a fifth grader at Alain Locke Elementary School in West Philadelphia. Over the last couple of months, she and her classmates put together a project promoting gender equality in the city.
It was part of the National Liberty Museum’s Young Heroes Outreach Program—a year long educational program for fourth through eighth graders in Philadelphia that teaches them their First Amendment rights and empowers the students to use them and enact change in their communities. Gwen Borowsky, the CEO of the National Liberty Museum thinks it’s critical for the kids to understand the potency of their rights as American citizens.
“They have power to make change. It’s the rights that come with the responsibilities,” she said.
After choosing gender equality and sexism as a topic, Janniyah and her classmates enacted both their freedom of speech and freedom of the press to promote their message. It started with a flash mob organized at City Hall followed by a dance performance at Love Park where the girls wore blue t-shirts and the boys wore pink ones.
“The dance means to be yourself no matter what,” said another student.
The students also handed out flyers about their cause during the performances.
From gender equality and gun violence to bullying and animal cruelty, students from 18 participating schools across Philadelphia put their projects on display at Temple’s Liacouras Center on May 30 as part of a final celebration for the Young Heroes program.
For Feltonville Arts and Sciences teacher Nicole Dopirak, her students’ project started with Karma. Not the hindu or buddhist principle, but a white cat one of her students had seen thrown from a moving car on her way to school.
It was the middle of winter and the student picked up the cat and brought it to school with her that day. She gave the cat to Dopirak, who took Karma back to New Jersey where she lives to care for it and find Karma a new home.
Little did she know, she had opened the flood gates to her students.
“After that, they kept bringing me animals to take care of,” said Dopirak.
With space in her home running out, Dopirak directed her fifth graders towards a project through Young Heroes addressing animal cruelty. They came up with the slogan: “MVPS” to care for animals.
“Microchip, Vaccinate, Proper Nutrition, and Spray and Neuter. The SPCA told me they loved it,” said Dopirak.
Her students also put together guidelines for donating to the SPCA, vaccinating kittens and dogs and introducing cats to one another.
In the same vein, sixth grader Melían at Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School wrote a page-long letter to her fellow students advocating to make their Young Heroes project about animal cruelty.
“I made sure our project would be about the animals,” she said.
Much like Dopirak, Melían’s friend, Zamayra also houses stray animals until she can find them new owners or a shelter that doesn’t euthanize to combat overpopulation.
“On my block, we see a lot of neglect of animals,” said Zamayra.
Their class at school rose awareness for animal cruelty through an organized speaker series and a drive for animal goods to benefit the ACCT in Hunting Park, SPCA and Morris Animal Shelter in South Philadelphia.
In her closing remarks to all the students, Borowsky asked if any of their projects were easy. It was met with a resounding no.
Solving layered problems like the ones the students chose to confront is no easy task, even for adults. But they tried and made tangible impacts in their communities with what they learned from the Young Heroes curriculum.
“Don’t wait for someone to make change in your world, make it for yourselves,” Borowsky told them.
The adults should take notes.