The Power of Young People: 14 Ways Students Are Making a Difference

By Natalie C. Jacobs, J.D., coauthor of Every Vote Matters: The Power of Your Voice, from Student Elections to the Supreme Court

The Power of Young People: 14 Ways Students Are Making a DifferenceYouth activism and civic engagement are nothing new. Young people often have an energy and a determination that can make things happen, even when older adults have failed. The civil rights movement included young people marching, organizing, and taking action for justice. In 1960, four African American college students did not accept being refused service at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. They peacefully protested by staging a sit-in and refusing to leave the lunch counter. Their bold act of civil disobedience resulted in marches, protests, and, ultimately, the desegregation of that lunch counter. Go, young people!

The following year, 187 black students were arrested for peacefully marching to the state capitol in South Carolina to protest discrimination. Yes, they were arrested and convicted, but the case went all the way to the Supreme Court,* which overturned the students’ convictions and held that the students’ First Amendment right to peaceably assemble (march and protest) had been violated. Go, young people!

Long before the courageous youth of the civil rights movement were the very young leaders (and rebels) of the American Revolution. When the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, Alexander Hamilton, a founding father, was only 21 years old. Many of the other leaders were in their teens or 20s. Go, young people!

The tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, has evoked the latest youth-led movement—a vocal and active response by many youth activists demanding sensible gun reform. The students are justifiably angry and frustrated after 17 of their classmates and teachers were slaughtered in the mass shooting. They’ve had enough of Congress’s inaction and have taken to the streets, social media, and the airwaves to call for reasonable gun control legislation.

Here are some ways these brave students are getting involved, which can inspire other young activists to do the same.

1. They are speaking up. In particular, students are vocally opposing the National Rifle Association (NRA) and politicians who accept campaign donations from the NRA and oppose gun reform. Students have used social media, and in some cases television and other media, to speak up.
2. Students have staged “die-ins” outside the Florida Capitol and the White House to protest gun violence in schools.
3. They have engaged adults and pundits. CNN hosted a town hall one week after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Students attended and urged lawmakers to do something about gun violence in schools. Some students who had just lost friends and siblings spoke up and demanded justice.
4. They have spoken directly to legislators. A bus full of students traveled to Tallahassee (Florida’s state capitol) to advocate for a ban on assault weapons. Additionally, students have met with members of Congress and even the president.
5. They have been pointed and critical. When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos came to Parkland to hold a press conference, students attended and asked her questions. They used social media to vocalize their frustrations over her responses, stating that her appearance in Parkland was simply a publicity stunt.
6. They walked out. The #NationalStudentWalkout occurred March 14, when countless students, teachers, and others walked out of their classrooms and schools for 17 minutes (one minute for each of the Parkland victims). The walkout was organized to protest gun violence and demand legislative action.
7. They are active in other causes. In an unrelated case, 21 youth plaintiffs are fighting for their right to a clean environment and stable climate. These young activists are suing the federal government over climate change and violation of students’ rights to life, liberty, and property through the government’s energy policies.**

Here are some other ideas for middle and high school students to join the gun reform movement or another cause and become engaged members of their communities.

8. Mark your calendars. Students across the country as well as educators, parents, and supporters will be taking to the streets March 24 for March for Our Lives to demand reasonable gun control measures. Find out if your town or city is organizing a march in support of this event at In addition to this march, there are many opportunities to participate in local and state demonstrations, rallies, and marches. Connecting with the right organizations (see below) and signing up for email, text, or other alerts about upcoming events can help students stay connected and informed.
9. Volunteer for a partisan or nonpartisan organization. Whether a student wants to volunteer for the local chapter of a political party or a nonpartisan group working for a cause like climate change or immigration, such organizations are always in need of volunteers. (Check the resources and links below for more information about finding the right organization to connect with.)
10. Attend a town hall meeting. Communities throughout the country will be seeing more and more town hall meetings this midterm election year. This is a great way for students to learn about the issues and candidates on the ballot and to ask questions directly of candidates. To find a town hall meeting near you, check out
11. Volunteer for a campaign. For students who become passionate about a particular issue or candidate, volunteering for a campaign is a great way to get involved and learn more about the political process. A student who is too young to vote can still help a campaign.
12. Organize and mobilize via social media. Teens and young adults can take advantage of their tech-savvy skills by harnessing the power of social media to bring awareness to an issue, gain support, and connect with like-minded people to help bring about change. Joining a social media group, or better yet starting one, is a simple and easy way to get started. The #NeverAgain Twitter account was created by students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, and it has gained a ton of support and media attention. Some of the more vocal students have hundreds of thousands of followers on their own Twitter accounts.
13. Contact your state legislators or members of Congress. Calling, emailing, or writing any lawmaker, whether at the local, state, or national level, is something all citizens have the right to do and should be encouraged to do. These lawmakers work for us, their constituents, and therefore should hear from a diverse group—including young voters and those who can’t yet vote.
14. Get out the vote. Even students who can’t vote yet can help with voter registration drives and with educating their peers on the need for everyone 18 and older to get to the polls. This is our most basic and fundamental responsibility as citizens of a democracy.

The students of Parkland, Florida, and others all over the country who have taken on the issue of gun control, have created a movement for change, and they are inspiring role models for everyone. Through students’ fierce demand for justice and action, their bold confrontations with lawmakers—even the president—and their vocal reminders not to let the latest school shooting slip into the shadows with countless other mass shootings, this youth-led movement is already making a difference.

Check out Speak Out’s: “Links to Student & Youth Organizations” for a list of organizations where young people can volunteer, and visit Youth Service America’s: “Ideas by Issue Area” for action ideas specific to causes.

*Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229 (1963).
**Juliana v. United States, Case No: 6:15-cv-01517 (Dist. Or. 2015).

Author Natalie JacobsA former criminal defense attorney, Natalie C. Jacobs works with her father, Judge Tom, on the teen rights website, helping teens and their parents become better informed about youth rights and the laws affecting minors. She has volunteered with the Arizona Innocence Project, which investigates claims of innocence and works to exonerate those wrongfully convicted. Natalie lives in Arizona.

Every vote mattersNatalie is the coauthor with her father, Judge Tom Jacobs, of Every Vote Matters.

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10 Tips for a Successful School Garden

By Barbara A. Lewis, author of The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects: Over 500 Service Ideas for Young People Who Want to Make a Difference

10 Tips for a Successful School GardenIf you offer brussels sprouts or a forkful of kale to a child, he will probably gag. This is not so true for those who feast on their own tenderly nurtured school garden produce. Planting school gardens is spreading like weeds across the country. Even back in 2013, approximately 27 percent of elementary schools in the United States boasted school gardens.

Schools with Successful Gardens
Students on a Navajo reservation in Leupp, Arizona, have a school garden. Living 45 minutes away from the nearest store, they wanted a closer source for food. They now plant many of their own veggies and fruits, like melons.

But they discovered another problem. When it rains in Leupp, it pours—not just a gentle spring rain. The water comes in a deluge and then capriciously disappears for weeks or even months. The students learned that you have to make the most of every drop. So they helped put in a water conservation system that was made from an old industrial food-grade transport container. They salvaged the cleaned container from a water treatment plant, and it holds 275 gallons to help out in dry times.

The students enjoy the harvest, but more than that, they have learned about where water comes from and how to conserve it. During harvest time, students trade their pitchforks for salad forks and enjoy a nutritious bumper crop, including carrots, melons, tomatoes, lettuce, kale, and apricots from one prized apricot tree.

There are many school garden success stories. The fourth graders at John J. Pershing Elementary School in Texas learned about their state’s history by growing the native plants early settlers would have grown for food. The kids made a beeline to school in the morning to check on their garden. They learned basic knowledge and skills from their garden, such as:

  • communication skills
  • responsibility
  • the history of their state
  • writing and speaking skills
  • enthusiasm for learning
  • community pride
  • improved nutrition and appreciation of nutrition
  • team building and cooperation

Another example of a successful school garden is the Carter School for the disabled in Boston. The children’s faces light up when they enter the garden. Teachers integrate garden activities into their curriculum. Working from wheelchairs, walkers, or adapted bikes, students can develop fine and gross motor skills while gardening. A big reward: They take some of the produce home to their families.

Your school garden can connect to curricular areas like math, language, science, health, social science, and more. You will see student improvement in teamwork, knowledge of content areas, communication, and community responsibility. So dig in. The bonus: Most of your students will not gag at their own hand-nurtured veggies. From garden to plate, students’ education, enthusiasm, and nutrition will improve one bite at a time.

10 Quick Tips for Starting a School Garden

  1. Check with your principal and faculty. Seek their support and cooperation.
  2. Brainstorm with your students or a student council about creating a school garden.
  3. Research. Kids should research the size of the garden, the best location for it, its nearness to a water source, and the types of plants that grow in your area (use the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map). You might also want to test the soil for contamination. If the soil is contaminated, you might plant a raised garden inside wooden beds. Also research district policies on giving or selling produce to cafeterias or others. Most schools will allow this, but will probably have a few rules.
  4. Students present their research and ideas to the faculty. The school might ask teachers to recommend one student representative from each class to serve on a garden committee. Or each class might be assigned a different garden responsibility. Students could list the plants that grow well in your area and ask classroom teachers to get student votes for which plants to grow.
  5. Create a planning committee. The committee might consist of the original students selected to present research plus additional ones, as well as teachers, parents, or community helpers. The committee might:
    • Make a timeline.
    • Assign jobs: Who does what and when.
    • Decide who receives the produce. Be aware of regulations for donating to a school cafeteria.
  6. Purchase or receive donated seeds or plants from local nurseries. Parents or community members might also donate tools. Do you need potting soil? What else? You can also apply for grants from the National Farm to School Network, the Whole Kids Foundation, and Kids Gardening.
  7. Plant. Roll up your sleeves and dig.
  8. Maintain the garden. Assign tasks to individuals or different classes.
  9. Evaluate your project with your school and planning committee. Learn from mistakes and refine your plan.
  10. Enjoy your produce.

Author Barbara LewisBarbara A. Lewis is an author and educator who teaches kids how to think and solve real problems. Her elementary school students initiated the cleanup of hazardous waste, improved sidewalks, planted thousands of trees, and even instigated and pushed through several state laws and an amendment to a national law. She has been featured in many national newspapers and magazines and on news programs, and her books have won Parenting’s Reading Magic Award and have been named “Best of the Best for Children” by the American Library Association, among other honors.

Free Spirit books by Barbara A. Lewis:

What Do You Stand For? For Kids What Do You Stand For? For Teens  Kids With Courage Kids Guide To Service Projects The Teen Guide to Global Action

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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18 Fun Ways to Get Ready for Kindergarten

By Celeste C. Delaney, author of ABC Ready for School: An Alphabet of Social Skills

18 Fun Ways to Get Ready for KindergartenIn many ways, kindergarten is the most important year in a child’s education. It is not only an exciting and challenging milestone for your child and you, but it sets the stage for how kids will view themselves as students and how they will view learning in general. So, it’s important for them to begin their first school year as prepared as possible.

Here are some fun ways to help get that young learner ready. Pick one or two skills to work on each week, and keep practicing until your child has mastered the skill. Review it every so often for reinforcement. All these skills will be needed in kindergarten, but don’t worry if they are not perfected before the first day of school arrives—kids will keep working on these skills with their teachers and classmates.

Identifying the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 1 through 10, six colors, and four basic shapes

  • Make a trail through the house using flash cards with a random order of letters, numbers, colors, and shapes. Place a little prize at the end of the trail (a sticker, a piece of candy, or a fruit snack), and have the child pick up one card at a time, name it, and move on to the next one before getting the prize at the end.
  • For those who like to go quickly, make a stack of the flash cards and time how quickly the child can go through the pile naming each card.
  • Look for letters, numbers, colors, or shapes on street signs or license plates as you travel around.

Writing their own name

  • Fill a baking tray with a half-inch edge with a quarter-inch layer of salt. Shake the tray to distribute the salt in an even layer. Have the child write letters and then her name into the salt.
  • Have the student use a glue stick to write her name on paper and sprinkle glitter on it.
  • Have the child make letters out of modeling dough or clay and use them to spell her name.

Cutting with scissors

  • Draw a line across the eight-inch width of a piece of paper and have the child cut along the line as closely as possible. Repeat to make one-inch strips, then have the child make a chain with the strips by taping one into a circle, linking the next strip on and taping the ends together to make another circle, and so on. Note: At first, you may have to help the child get the scissors onto his hand correctly—thumb on top in the smaller hole. Hold the paper vertically at first if this helps him maintain the correct position during cutting.
  • Roll modeling dough or clay into long, thin “snakes” and cut them into pieces.
  • Cut out snowflake patterns by folding a square piece of paper diagonally (corner to corner) several times and snipping out shapes along each folded edge. Unfold to see the snowflake.

Following verbal instructions consistently

  • Play Stop and Go. Make a green sign for GO and a red sign for STOP. Have the child walk toward you and obey the signs as you hold up one or the other (stopping when it says STOP, going when it says GO). Add a verbal cue at first to help her understand. This can be played inside or outside and in combination with other skills. For example, each time the child stops, she has to follow an instruction, such as “do three jumping jacks” or “bounce the ball four times.”
  • Play Simon Says, having children follow the commands.
  • Give multipart or multistep instructions and see if the child can follow them correctly. For example, “Put the blue car inside the yellow box” or, “Fold the paper in half and put it on the floor.”

Going to the bathroom, eating, and getting shoes and socks on and off independently

  • Make a chart and put stickers on it whenever a task is attempted or achieved independently.
  • Act out the task with a child’s favorite toy while the child attempts it.
  • Take a trip to the store to choose a reward when the task is achieved consistently, like special underwear, a new lunchbox for school, or socks and shoes that the child can put on and take off independently.

Taking turns and sharing without getting upset

  • Play board games or ball games that involve taking turns.
  • Have one or two friends over to play so your child has to share his toys with others.
  • Take turns during a daily task, like stirring the dough while baking cookies or using the broom to sweep the floor.

In addition to these fun activities at home, it can be helpful to have kids participate in a play group or class like swimming or tumbling so they get used to being in a group setting and listening to other adults. This is good preparation for school.

Always encourage kids with praise. Remind them of skills they’ve learned that were once difficult for them so they can keep working on new ones and not give up.

Above all, have fun playing with your young learners, remembering that the goal is for them to enjoy learning and feel confident in their abilities to learn and grow. This will serve them well in the many years of education ahead of them, as well as deepening your relationship of love and support.

Celeste DelaneyCeleste C. Delaney grew up in New Zealand, where much of life is lived outdoors. As a child, she loved playing at the beach, reading, playing piano, writing stories, and drawing. She left New Zealand after earning a degree in occupational therapy and has since lived and worked in many countries including the United States, India, Malaysia, China, and Mexico. Celeste enjoys traveling, teaching, art projects, and writing. She works as an occupational therapist with children, which challenges her to be patient and flexible and rewards her with smiles, hugs, and the joy of seeing children grow and learn. Celeste lives near Portland, Oregon, with her husband Chris.

ABC Ready for SchoolCeleste is the author of  ABC Ready for School: An Alphabet of Social Skills.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Enter to win ABC Ready for School!

Enter to win ABC Ready for SchoolWe’re giving away copies of ABC Ready for School: An Alphabet of Social Skills to five lucky readers! This friendly and reassuring alphabet book helps young children consider, explore, and discuss a wide range of skills related to school readiness.

To Enter: Leave a comment below describing how you help children learn social skills.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, March 23, 2018.

Each winner will be contacted via email on or around March 26, 2018, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered by, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winners must be US residents, 18 years of age or older.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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How to Handle Anger Issues in the Classroom

By Andrew Hawk

How to Handle Anger Issues in the ClassroomI believe it is the intent of most educators to create safe and happy learning environments. Classrooms should be places where students can set aside the outside world. However, this is easier said than done. Every day, students from all walks of life enter classrooms carrying baggage from their outside lives. The problem is that it is tough to concentrate on learning if you are worried or anxious. In many cases, anxiety boils to the surface in the form of anger.

Anger shows up in many ways in classrooms. I have yet to encounter a teacher who does not have a story to share about an angry student. During my time student teaching, a new student was enrolled in my class. When we were introduced, he told me he liked to be called Pat. Later on his first day, when I was leading the class of third graders in a math lesson, I called on him. But I mistakenly called him Patrick. He started to scream at me that I had called him the wrong name. Days later, I found out that his father had been taken to jail the night before.

I learned that day that teachers need to be ready to encounter anger with little to no warning. Even when anger pops up unexpectedly, most situations can be deescalated. Here are some tips you might try if anger issues ever impact your learning environment.

In the Moment

  • Breathe. If you are caught off guard, take a second to gather your wits. It is better if your initial reaction is calm. If you meet anger with anger, you will most likely escalate the situation. Count to three, and then follow the next tip.
  • Evaluate the situation. How bad is it? Are the other students safe? If not, clear the room before addressing the angry student. If you have to clear the room, send one of the other students to get another adult.
  • Encourage the student to talk. Recognize that the student is upset, and ask what is troubling him. If the student tells you, encourage him to give details. This allows him to vent some of his anger.
  • Validate the student’s feelings. Never tell an angry person that she has nothing to be angry about. I guarantee this will make the majority of angry people angrier. Typically, angry students are being irrational. It is not necessary to agree with students’ anger to validate it. Simply tell the student, “I bet that would make a lot of people angry.” You cannot reason with an angry student. You have to drain off the anger first, and then talk about what to do next time.
  • Ask for something small. Ask the student to do something minuscule. Compliant behavior has a way of snowballing, but do not start off too big. If the student is standing, do not start by asking him to sit down. Instead, ask the student to hand you something or to walk to another part of the room with you.
  • Ask for deep breaths. In my opinion, taking deep breaths is the fastest way to calm an upset person of any age. The person has to comply with the request, though. Once you get your first compliant request out of the way, ask the student to take a deep breath. Encourage her by counting in for ten seconds and out for ten seconds. If your student complies with the first breath, repeat the process until she is calm.

After an Angry Outburst

  • Discuss what happened with the student. Tell the student that his behavior is concerning to you. Do not use this time to lecture. If you start lecturing the student, he will shut down almost instantly—or it may lead to another angry outburst. Make consequences logical and restorative, not punitive. If the student made a mess, have him clean it up. If the student said something hurtful, have him apologize.
  • Communicate with parents. Your first communication with parents should be something positive. This strategy can help you build a relationship with parents, which can make difficult conversations a little easier. Tell parents what happened and see if they can offer some insights.
  • Teach a coping mechanism. Many students who have regular angry outbursts lack a coping mechanism. They simply do not know how to calm themselves down. Popular coping mechanisms include deep breathing, positive imagery, and walking away from difficult situations to calm down. Whether you try one of these strategies or something else, role-play with the student so she can practice using it. Also, you will need to prompt her to use the mechanism when you see her becoming angry.
  • Collect data. The antecedent to angry behavior is not always obvious. If you have students who are angry a lot, collect data about their behavior. Pay attention to the time of day, what was happening in the classroom, and who was involved. The goal of this type of data collection is to identify your students’ triggers.
  • Plan for triggers. Once you know a student’s triggers, you can plan accordingly to help him overcome his anger. For example, if a certain activity creates frustration that leads to anger, be sure to plan a preferred activity before and after it. Tell the student about all three activities ahead of time. This kind of planning can help the student work through the difficult activity.
  • Use response to intervention. If anger problems are happening regularly even though you are doing all the things mentioned here, refer the student to your school’s response to intervention team. You can report to the team the strategies you have been trying. Chances are that someone on the team will also have a good idea. This is a great step just in case things take a turn for the worse.
  • Request a functional behavior analysis (FBA). If the student receives special education services, you can ask your school psychologist to complete a functional behavior analysis. The student’s parent or guardian will have to agree. If the analysis determines that the student’s behavior negatively impacts her learning, the case conference committee will work with the school psychologist to write a behavior plan that will become part of the student’s IEP (individualized education program). This is an important step as students change grades or schools, because the plan stays with the student. In addition, the plan will be updated annually.

Above all, try to stay positive. A strategy might work fine for days or months then, without warning, stop working. This can be frustrating, but if you keep working at matching the right strategy to the needs of the student, you can help most students be successful.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for sixteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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