Service and Activism: Resources for Young People to Stay Connected, Inspired and Motivated this Summer

These are challenging times, and many people are grieving, angry, and exhausted. There are many inspiring examples of youth activism and protest in the news. As educators, we are in the unique position to support students to channel their emotions into action and we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and our communities about longstanding systemic inequities and to equip our students with tools for change.

Everywhere you look there is work to be done, and one way to stay connected and hopeful during times of suffering is to find a meaningful cause or purpose. As someone your students know and trust, sending them off on summer break with some resources to develop activist skills and use their voices for change could be an important gift to them and to the world. For more on teaching as activism, teaching as care, see this article by Jamilah Pitts in the May Teaching Tolerance online Magazine.

If you are in the position to assign a summer service or action project, you might start by helping students identify and tap into their passions and connect with other youth. One summer program: Impact 2020 is designed to support middle school and high school students to develop the skills needed to tackle a community need, form a network with other youth, and make a local impact on global issues. A few other resources to check out GirlVentures,  Girl Up, Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, the 2020 BLM School Challenge, the KQED Youth Media Challenge, and Student Voice.

Youth Services America offers resources to share with students and their families who are looking for service ideas. Volunteering may look different this summer, and it is important to follow local health guidelines and restrictions before undertaking any service project.

To inspire your students, you may consider ending the year with a call to action to students in your class, Advisory, or greater community. Below is one idea for a collaborative project merging art with activism.

  1. With your students, brainstorm and share stories of acts of activism, protest, altruism or service that your students know of in their families, communities or have heard about in the world.  
  2. Invite your students to submit a story of love and action directly related to responses to those suffering from any aspect of the worldwide pandemic, systemic racism or other cause. They may choose to highlight a story of environmental justice or simple act of kindness.  Invite them to submit poetry, photographs and other artwork to demonstrate these examples of the strength of the human spirit and the power of compassionate action. The art may also offer messages of hope or a call to action.
  3. (Perhaps over the summer or with parent help): Compile the students work into a book, vlog, blog, youtube video or website.

This collaboration may inspire others and serve as a reminder of hope. Please share and post examples of students leading in your community.

For more information about the benefits of service learning: Service Learning Research Issue Brief and McLean Institute for Public Service: Benefits of Service Learning. McLean Institute also outlines Service Learning Best Practices which include many of the same teaching pedagogical practices that enhance social and emotional learning. For more about the connection between art and activism: The Center for Artistic Activism.

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