Over the years at THS, I have gained a reputation for my various volunteer efforts around the world and involvement in community issues. I have also been lucky to be able to work in a school which allows me to channel my passion for voluntary aid into my classroom experiences in the middle school. At THS, I have been given the latitude to create compelling PBL programs for students that bring community issues to light which ultimately helps them understand more about themselves, the society they live in and to think critically and spot for patterns of social injustice, discrimination and inequality.
There is a distinct difference between being an advocate for change and being an activist for change. Our students are change-makers. My classroom is an example of the diverse global community that our students are a part of. As a part of this community, they have a voice and ability to disrupt the status quo and break down the walls of what is expected of them.
Three years ago, a THS parent Melissa Machin-d’Arbela and I started Voice of Informed Children Everywhere with a small group of interested students.
Voice started out as a group of interested students wanting to be heard on social issues that involved them. They also wanted to stand up for those who had no voice. We began by understanding the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and how to protect the rights of all children. As our vision evolved, we decided to take on any issue that has an impact on the lives of youth. Issues we have taken on in the past range from the treatment of refugee and asylum-seeking children, the elderly and underprivileged, pressures of youth in an international community and the environment.
This month we are focused on environmental issues in Hong Kong. As a facilitator at these meetings I often find myself trying to talk the students up as the discussion frequently turns from having thoughtful and interesting ideas that are founded on compassion, to discouraging comments about how kids are never taken seriously, or heard. Creating opportunities to not only feel heard, but to be heard is what Voice is all about.
We met with our school principal Mrs. Christine Greenberg to discuss the growing concern our students have about pollution and the lack of corporate accountability. The health of our oceans is a growing issue and what repercussions this will have on the future of our planet and humanity.
THS students are more informed than most about the impact of plastic waste on the environment. Four years ago, our students worked with two U.S. musicians to compose and produce an original music video highlighting the problem called Plastic Ocean (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlqi58MV3yQ). It is an issue our students feel particularly close to as they have seen with their own eyes, the environmental damage from plastic waste when they volunteer at beach cleanups and when sailing along Hong Kong’s coasts on the Black Dolphin.
We have an excellent marine science program developing at school, one which will take its place among the few educational institutions to lead in educating for change in our oceans. With this in mind, Mrs. Greenberg met with Voice to hear their proposal to ban plastic water bottles from school.
Voice has secured agreement from school administration and plastic water bottles will be banned from all three THS campuses starting Jan. 1. Teachers will also be required to bring their eco-friendly coffee cups when bringing coffee in from outside vendors.
Living by example, is a practice that reaffirms what we tell our students. If plastic is so bad for the environment, why do we allow it? It is not always easy to take a stance on an issue that will cause backlash, inconvenience, or discontentment among the population, but if that stance aligns with the values and mission of what we are teaching our students then it’s ok to be a little uncomfortable.
Changing the status quo is not always easy, but it is also not impossible - and that is a lesson our students need to experience. If we expect to create change-makers, shouldn’t we help them make change?