Eighth-grade class inspired by IWitness to highlight good deeds

Mon, 10/08/2018 - 4:56pm

A cluttered bulletin board in educator Lisa Farese’s eighth-grade language-arts classroom shows how deeply she has engaged with USC Shoah Foundation lesson plans to teach her students about respect.

Her classroom campaign – ignited by her students’ enthusiasm over the Institute’s “100 Days to Inspire Respect” IWitness initiative of last year – is called #180DaysToInspireRespect. It has her students at Robert Adams Middle School in Massachusetts volunteering each day to present about the respectful acts they’ve witnessed, received, read and heard about.

The acts of kindness are small, but taken together they shine a light on the unnoticed good that happens every day in the world.

“I was walking in the hallway and a student dropped all of her books and folders, and many people rushed over to help her,” wrote a student.

“I saw a student holding the door open for everyone in the morning,” wrote another.

“Everyone thanked the bus driver on their way off of the bus this morning and it made the driver smile,” wrote a third.

“If we ever struggle to see that the world really does contain good people and actions, all we need to do is take a peek at the bulletin board,” Farese said. Just a few weeks into the school year, it hangs heavy with the good deeds her students have noticed around campus. “The kids are loving this idea and embracing their power.”

The idea came to Farese over the summer, while she was attending a training on project-based learning at the Buck Institute. She started connecting things: her school district’s goals that focused on the social emotional learning her students; her past efforts to empower her students; the new book – Of Mice and Men – she’d be teaching in the spring of the next year. Something clicked.

“In Of Mice and Men, there’s a concrete sense of loyalty and community,” Farese said. “The characters communicate with one another while growing bonds based on the respect of others, and they grow as individuals.”

She saw the lessons in the new book as an opportunity to “embark on a yearlong journey of inspiration” before her classes even started the book.

“What if I created a simple spot in my room where we presented ideas of respect each day of the year?” Farese asked. “What greatness would we experience?”

Since she began the campaign, Farese has witnessed profound results – an encouraging response given the nature of the project-based learning lesson plans she’s developed for the spring semester when the students crack open Of Mice and Men and incorporate social media interactivity into their learning.

“We’ll focus on how our social media presence, when used effectively, can build strong, passionate, loyal communities,” Farese said. The project is called “InstaCommunity.”

Lisa Farese
Farese is no stranger to successful collaboration with USC Shoah Foundation. In 2015, her students Natalia Podstawka and Emma Heintz won the national IWitness Video Challenge Competition with a project they developed as part of their iCan Change the World project through Farese. Their video juxtaposed their writing personalized, encouraging notes to each of the 415 students at their school with the testimony of Dina Gottliebova-Babbitt talking about receiving a smile from a stranger.

The educator says her students this year also love IWitness. So far, they’ve created “identity maps” – or cards on which the students have drawn colorful images or shared quotes answering the question “Who are you?” (They were inspired to do so by the winners of the 2017 IWitness Video Challenge.) Later, they’ll use IWitness in their study of the book Night to learn about how important their stories can be.

Farese says she’s seen a growth in empathy from her students who have connected with IWitness and the Institute’s Visual History Archive.

“Last year, I had a few students try to help me locate my friend’s grandparent’s testimony,” Farese said. “They knew how much that would mean to me, so they did some of their own searching. What a beautiful gesture.”

Rob Kuznia