Every day of the week, The Pollination Project (www.thepollinationproject.org) awards $1000 seed grants to individuals working in areas like sustainability, social justice, community health and wellness, arts and media. Our "pollination philanthropy" model of giving money directly to people, instead of established entities, is intended to help change-makers launch new ideas -- and teachers have unique opportunities to strike at the roots and create a more just, peaceful, healthy future for us all.
Last summer, we put out a call to find the 20 most compassionate and innovative social change educators in North America. Winning teachers receive a monetary grant to launch or expand a project, paid tuition in the Institute for Humane Education's six-week home-based course Teaching for a Positive Future, plus professional support from their peers. We believe that these 20 teachers are role models: they are working against the odds to create the kind of just, humane and forward-thinking educational system we all yearn for.
We introduced several of our winning teachers last week and the week before. Here are more award-winning passionate educators who are seeding the change inside their own classrooms and across their school districts:
Shawn Fortin is the principal of Horace Mann Middle School in suburban Franklin, Massachusetts. By creating classroom opportunities that combine student-designed projects with real-world applications, his students learn skills to make a lasting, positive change in the world. He launched the school's Teen Leadership and Communication (TLC) program, a service-learning program that promotes social awareness. Last year, students collected birthday party supplies for low-income families and organized several student-run technology training sessions for senior citizens, among other projects.
Magaly Madrid is the U.S. Coordinator and a lead educator for the Marketplace School Initiative, a global program promoting literacy and self-sufficiency in developing countries by establishing free schools for youth ages 5-17 and adults. She sees how education creates a smarter, healthier, wealthier and more peaceful society, and as a Universal Peace Federation Ambassador, she inspires creativity, critical thinking, compassion, responsibility and respect for the environment, the global community and each other. She is also working in Western Africa to improve the treatment of farmed animals.
Tania Torres teaches social studies at Edcouch-Elsa High School in Southern Texas and is director of youth programs for the nonprofit Llano Grande Center for Research and Development. By teaching for social justice, Tania works to ensure equal opportunities for all students. She started an afterschool running club for female students that includes discussions on self-image, healthy living and gender equality. She mentors students following a non-traditional educational path, preparing them with practical skills like phone etiquette and resume writing, and hopes to start a creative writing project on campus that will encourage students to bring healing, liberation and empowerment into their own lives and the lives of others through writing.
Ashley Olson, sociocultural coordinator in University of Wisconsin-River Falls' Student Life office and a social change activist, works to encourage students to become engaged community members. She is also the first in higher education to offer Kingian Nonviolence Training based on the teachings of The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Her "Change Agent" project helps students take action on an environmental, social, economic, political or global issue and her upcoming Peer Empowerment And Community Education (PEACE) project will feature monthly workshops so campus leaders and faculty can learn from civil rights activists and nonviolent social change leaders.
Chelsea Taxman is the education coordinator for Truck Farm Omaha, a mobile garden (planted in the bed of a 1975 Chevy pickup) truck teaching about healthy eating, environmental sustainability and the benefits of growing one's own food. Chelsea visits elementary, junior high and at-risk youth programs to lead hands-on activities including botany, sustainable agriculture, healthy eating and recipes. In the past 14 months, Truck Farm Omaha has distributed heirloom seeds to more than 1,000 young people, and will be working with two local schools to create school-based food gardens.
Laura Holt Erlig teaches science and nutrition courses to homeschooled students through One Spark Academy, a nontraditional learning center in Thousand Oaks, California, where she fosters academic curiosity and social, emotional and nutritional health. Her "Biomimicry with Physics" course challenges students to think critically, analytically and with accountability by connecting natural processes with technology and find more sustainable solutions for modern innovations. She also started a school garden for her "Food Fascination" class, where students prepare the day's healthy lunch from scratch and learn about healthy eating.
Mark Whitson teaches science at Madison Middle School in Eugene, Oregon, where he launched a PeaceJam educational program to help students make a positive difference in the world through focused studies and service-learning projects. Ever pushing the envelope on how students and faculty can make compassionate and humane choices through education, he also serves on the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports team, a nationwide effort to improve both student social behavior and academic performance, create support systems for children with disabilities.
Michele Leavitt is co-director of the honors program and adjunct instructor in the Center for Environmental Arts and Humanities at Unity College, a small liberal arts college in rural Maine. Michele takes a trans-disciplinary approach to real world problem-solving that includes understanding of self-groups, community and acceptance of responsibility. A former public defender and volunteer president of an agency that provides services to battered women, Michele turned to teaching in 2004, believing she could make more of a difference. To that end, she is an advocate of art that can bring about change, and has organized a poetry slam of performances intended to create dialogue about America's history of racial oppression, and a reading by environmental poets with discussion on protecting the planet.
Congratulations to these grantees for their outstanding work in and outside the classroom.
These are just a few examples of what a little seed money can do when put in the hands of someone with a vision and a plan to change the world.
If you were given $1000, how would YOU seed the change?
The Pollination Project makes $1000 grants every day, 365 days a year to individual changemakers. Please go to our website at www.thepollinationproject.org for funding guidelines and application.