This is a guest post by Jen Cullerton Johnson, author of Seeds of Change. Johnson is a writer, educator, and environmentalist who teachers at an inner-city elementary school in Chicago.
Ashley Howey is the literacy coordinator at Briar Creek Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina. Last school year, she contacted me about my picture book Seeds of Change, a nonfiction biography of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya. Brier Creek Elementary school wanted to do something different, something no other school in their district had done before.
The school community wanted to adopt the themes within Seeds of Change to be the deep focus for student growth, teacher extended learning, and administration professional development. In other words, everyone at Briar Creek Elementary wanted to be involved in change. They wanted the book Seeds of Change to guide them because they felt it showed how people tackled big problems and worked together, and most importantly how change brings out each person’s inner potential.
Brier Creek Elementary School hosts diverse learners from various socio-economic and multicultural backgrounds. The school is supported by Title I and is a year around school. Their curriculum mission is to “cultivate culturally ambitious citizens.”
“We want everyone in our school to own a copy,” Ashley Howey said. “Teachers, students, cafeteria workers, administration, parents. Everyone.”
“How many is everyone?” I asked.
1,200 copies is a lofty goal, a ton of books, an enormous number, I thought.
“What makes this project so special?” I asked.
“Every student in the school is united by reading the book and using it as a springboard for collective change,” she said.
I remembered that goals are all about teamwork, goodwill, and sharing our resources. I was on board.
In September 2013, I sent video message to their teachers. In October 2014, we skyped with the whole school where a storyteller enacted Wangari’s life. By March 2014 the school had purchased close to 300 copies, one for each teacher and one for each family unit in the school. They were not able to give all students a copy. Nonetheless with the copies they had, the school began their Seeds of Change project.
The music teacher, Adam Hall wrote an anthem for the whole school. Young people sang lyrics like: Plant our roots/ Let us grow/ Water us love/To watch us bloom!
Children in different classrooms started thinking about how to be the best they could.
One student said: “At our school we are working together to make things better like Wangari did!”
Teachers felt the pull of the whole school learning focus. Enthusiasm was contagious!
One teacher said, “Seeds of Change has given our school a common language of character. We have integrated these powerful message of persistence, patience and respect for our surroundings and others, into our conversations throughout the school.”
But by June 2014, Brier Creek Elementary School still had not been able to give a copy of the book to each student. In fact, since March, many, many had to share. What Ashley Howey wanted when she first started this big school community project was for everyone to have a copy of the book, and so far they still need 700 copies of Seeds of Change.
Then something happened. They started giving away some of their books.
“We wanted the children to sign the book here in North Carolina and give them to the children in Kenya. And the Kenyan children would sign a copy and we would keep a copy it in North Carolina.”
When students decided to share their resources, they were given even more opportunities to learn, grow and be proud of who they are.
The exchange was a success. Students in North Carolina saw a digital video of Kenyan students reading the book. Kenyan students saw North Carolina students dancing and singing to the song they created called Seeds of Change.
Their special project is unique and is rooted in changing the mindset and actions of a school community. With this first year over, Brier Creek Elementary now wants to continue to connect and share what they learned.
The school is now is involved in a sister project with a school in Kenya. Teachers in North Carolina are sharing lesson plans and learning activities with Kenyan teachers and their students.
“We plan on Skyping with the Kenya teachers and students about Seeds of Change,” Ashley said. “In August we will fundraise with a Seeds of Change Walk-a-Thon and the money will go to buying more copies of the book for us and for Kenya.” They want to raise enough funds to buy 200 copies to send to Kenya.
What you can do
Together with your help, we can continue to plant and honor our seeds of change. If you are inspired by Brier Creek Elementary School’s project, get involved! I have started a Seeds of Change Campaign where young people around the country can help other young people at Brier Creek Elementary and their sister school in Kenya by donating copies of Seeds of Change to help them reach their goal of 700 copies for their school and 200 copies for their sister school in Kenya.
If a young person donates, I will donate an Author’s Skype visit to your home or school. In my Author’s visit, we will read parts of the book and do a seed planting together. I will also create a section on my website where your school will be honored as a donor.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for scheduling and further information.
Book donations can be sent to the following address:
Ashley Howey, NBCT
Brier Creek Elementary School
9801 Brier Creek Parkway
Raleigh, North Carolina 27617