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Stories from the Field

California Casualty Awardees Mary Ellen Daneels: Soapbox Change

Great educators have great stories. This series gives a glimpse of the ideas, practices, and experiences of the recipients of the NEA Foundation’s California Casualty Awards for Teaching Excellence. Today, we’re sharing the words of Mary Ellen Daneels, a social studies educator at West Chicago Community High School in Chicago, IL. 

Each semester in my community leadership course, students give “soapbox speeches” on what they believe is the most important issue facing their community. Speeches usually center on issues relating to diversity, such as bullying, gender inequity, treatment of the disabled, racism, and body image.

One year, students did further investigation and presented a six-point plan of action at a school board meeting. This resulted in policy changes, the development of a more comprehensive plan to address bullying, and a new school touchstone created by the students to articulate what kind of school climate they wanted. The touchstone was created per student body input and now hangs in every classroom as a foundation of how ALL members of our school community are to conduct themselves.

This project harnessed student voice to promote sustainable change on issues of diversity and school climate. The students equitably divided the tasks, Throughout the process, I was able to assess their speeches, research, survey work, interviews, PowerPoint presentation to the school board, and their reflection on the process. I gave them feedback on their plans and remediated when necessary to help them achieve their learning objectives. Students gained an authentic experience of how local government works, how to identify agents of power, and how to tailor a message to various audiences.

This successful project began with tapping student voice and allowing differentiated opportunities for students to express their findings based on their diverse personalities, strengths, and challenges.

Meet more of the 2018 NEA Foundation awardees hereLearn more about the NEA Foundation’s Awards for Teaching Excellence criteria and nominations process.

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