Group Project Broadens Classroom at Pauline Johnson

Female students pose with their teacher

Caption: Students in Angela McMillan's Challenge and Change in Society class took on community-based projects last semester.

A unique project in Angela McMillan’s Challenge and Change in Society class at Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School has inspired students to go above and beyond the goals of the assignment and make a significant impact on their local community in the process.

“We’ve been learning about how social changes are initiated and implemented, and my expectations were that students would begin to put the pieces in place to create their own plans,” said McMillan, who has been in the profession for 15 years, and is teaching this course for the first time this year. “I did not expect such a whole-hearted commitment and dedication to improving the lives of others.”

The group project allowed students to select causes important to them, and then provided the parameters to help them identify goals and the steps necessary to realize them. While McMillan expected students would work within the comfort level of the school community, she was surprised to see their brainstorming sessions including plans to reach out to businesses and other organizations to benefit their fellow citizens.

Projects included a clothing drive for Friendship House, which provides food, clothing and a safe space for those facing homelessness and poverty; a community garden project which students will continue to be involved in beyond the assignment’s timelines; a project developed for Brantford General Hospital which involves local retirement-home residents in an effort to provide much needed baby blankets; a community dinner and food donation drive in support of families at nearby feeder school Bellview Public School; and two projects aimed at improving student well-being and inclusion.

“In most classes, you’re writing essays and reading about what other people have done, but this project showed me that if you plan ahead and reach out to other people who can help, you can actually make a difference,” said Grade 12 student Madhu Tiwari, whose group developed Clothes for Kindness, the clothing drive in support of Friendship House. “In Brantford, the need is very high, and it was amazing to work with Friendship House volunteers and local people willing to share their generosity. We don’t always get to hear about the good-news stories, but this city is so much more than its reputation.”

The project also builds professional skillsets that will serve students well in a variety of fields. Developing a needs assessment, determining where resources exist and can be allocated, and coming up with an elevator pitch – a quick, engaging summary of a project’s goals meant to bring other people onboard – were all part of the assignment.

One group used their elevator pitch to solicit donations from local grocery stores in their efforts to support the community dinner at Bellview Public School.

“I was surprised by how generous and willing to help they were,” said Emma Fielding, whose group did the ground work to ensure the annual holiday dinner at the school made it a merrier holiday for many families. “It can be nerve-wracking to make the ask, but it’s worth doing for the end result.”

Students utilized social media as a way to reach larger networks, and found that the online community was equally willing to help out. Within minutes of sharing their projects’ goals, many students were overwhelmed by the support offered.

Community is one of six indicators in Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan, and its purpose is to formally integrate and celebrate the community partners whose contributions enhance the learning experiences of students. Projects like this go far in expanding the walls of a classroom, and provide students with a better understanding of their place in the world as local and global citizens.

“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed because you can’t help everyone,” said Fielding. “But you can help someone.”

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