Head of School Blog

Be the Change You Wish to See…

Jill Singleton
Mahatma Gandhi said “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” an oft quoted expression here at All Saints, and one that speaks directly to our mission point related to developing “a heightened sense of spirituality through social action and service.” This week I had the pleasure of interviewing the Fourth Grade class about their recent social action about pedestrian safety, and was absolutely amazed at the insights shared by the students.

By way of context and background, the Fourth Grade class engages in a year-long action research project on the subject of their choosing. As part of their research, students survey all of the fourth graders in the city of Hoboken, interview local officials related to the topic, conduct man-on-the-street interviews, use their powers of observation to record live activity related to their topic, and engage in online research to identify ways other cities are managing similar challenges. After analyzing their data, the students write a report which is presented at an official meeting of the City Council in May. Topics over the years have included recycling, the problem of dog waste on our streets and parking and traffic, to name a few. This year the students decided to research the issue of pedestrian safety as it relates to bicycles and motorists.

When I heard that the students were covering this topic, I was thrilled. Last year at this time, as I was exiting the breezeway at 707 Washington Street, I was physically knocked over by a speeding bicycle. A week after that, my mom and I were walking on Washington Street when a child crashed his bicycle right into my mom, nearly knocking her over. (By the way, I learned from our students that the law is that cyclists who use the sidewalk cannot pedal their bikes faster than people can walk…makes sense to me!)

One of the things that I love about the Action Research curriculum is that we teach children that in order to effect social change, we need to make sure we meet certain criteria:

1. We need to acknowledge that problems are usually more complex than they seem at first blush. (Let’s face it, if the solution was easy, it probably wouldn’t be a problem!)
2. We need to get our facts straight. This means asking a lot of good questions and taking good notes. We need to be fair in our work and must look at both sides of an issue.
3. We need to present our work with a very healthy dose of respect and poise.

While you will definitely want to read the whole report to learn what the students discovered about the problem of pedestrian safety along with some recommendations for the city’s consideration (Fourth Grade Action Research Report), I wanted to share some insights and transferrable skills the students said they developed as a result of doing the project:

1. We have to think outside the box to solve problems.
2. Some people ignore problems when they are small and then they become big problems. If everyone does a little thing, then a big thing will happen.
3. Once you start something you should try your best to figure it out.
4. If one person does something really bad in the community, then others may do the same thing. It takes everyone to be involved and to do the right thing.
5. There are many different kinds of jobs in the world. There are people who spend their lives thinking about planning, or managing all of the traffic that comes in and out of Hoboken.
6. There are consequences for actions you take in your life. Even a small thing has a chain reaction and can end up being something big.

I hope you are as impressed as I am with our students’ work on this important subject. Watching these nine-year-olds stand before the City Council to present their findings was one of the year’s top highlights. They are a true testament to the richness and relevance of our unique curriculum. Imagine the possibilities for the future when these children grow up and become leaders!

Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? I’d love to hear them! Email me: jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com