Facility Planning

Everyone a Changemaker: Education for the 21st century

At 3:30 in the afternoon, when most high school students are being dismissed from school, students at Changemaker High School (CMHS) are still immersed in rich, engaging and world-changing activity. Small groups of students from the Urban Agriculture Lab are working in the greenhouses, propagating plants for an urban core restoration project, preparing garden beds, turning compost or planting vegetables. Teachers and students engaged in participatory research are walking through the surrounding neighborhood, knocking on doors and gathering data on community safety and health, in order to propose sound solutions and design innovative projects to meet the identified community need. In the art room (better known as the Creativity Lab), students are working on large-scale paintings and mixed media pieces that speak to civic engagement and global transformation, while others are preparing for the runway debut of their upcycled fashion line as part of a student venture to raise money to create a scholarship fund.

In the Changemaker Lab, the think-tank where student ventures are conceived and put into action, students are busily typing away as they draft proposals and write letters in efforts to reach out to potential community partners while others are editing photos and video and meeting in small groups to brainstorm social venture ideas. Oversized, student-created posters on the walls read “Don’t Make Excuses: Make Change”, “Be The Change You Want To See In The World” and “Once A Changemaker, Always A Changemaker.”

Changemaker High School is a public charter high school in Tucson, where student leaders are prepared to turn ideas into action. A Changemaker is defined as anyone who, through his or her own idea, takes initiative and causes positive change for the greater good. At CMHS, learning based on empathy, problem solving, teamwork and leadership combines with standard core curriculum to create changemaker education, preparing students to become future leaders prepared to take on the challenges of a world defined by change. Since being selected as a member of Ashoka’s International Changemaker School Network, CMHS has been in the spotlight as an innovator in public education. This past September, CMHS was selected as one of five schools nationwide to be featured in the “Think It Up” live telecast. The video featured on the telecast captures the amazing story of an educational institution at the cutting edge of innovation in education. This recognition sets the stage for other schools to benefit from a model of teaching and learning that promotes young people as innovators and creators for the world that they wish to see.

All students at CMHS are required to engage with their community, identify challenges and propose and put into action solutions to those challenges. Twice a year, CMHS students present their social venture ideas in Pitch-a-thons which are open to the public and judged by community representatives, who themselves are changemakers and social entrepreneurs. During the Pitch-a-thon, students are given five minutes to pitch his or her idea in an effort to raise the seed money needed to launch their venture. Students with established ventures give report-outs, accounting for funds spent and outlining next steps. Presentations also include foundational research, business strategies and accountability plans. The ideas are creative and diverse, and are grounded in the personal experiences of the students.

One student, who came to this country as a refugee, is organizing a 5K run in support of local refugee relocation initiatives. Another student has successfully launched a project to support teens struggling with body image issues, which she herself battled with as a young teen. Homelessness, food insecurity, sustainability and community health and wellness are other examples of issues being tackled by the students.

Changemaker education is empathy in action; the moment when a person moves from feeling concerned to actually putting solutions into action. As these young people step out into the world at this very critical time, they will find themselves being asked to address the monumental problems facing the world and will be required to call upon their empathy and compassion, as well as the essential 21st-century skills of creativity, problem-solving, teamwork and leadership.

CMHS senior Marbella Rodriguez, who is in the second year of her venture and is currently deciding which university she will be attending, says that changemaker education has changed her in many profound ways. Rodriguez says she now understands how she is connected to an entire world, and that she has responsibility to that world, “by being a changemaker.” “We help not only ourselves, but our communities. Changemaker education has taught me that success goes hand in hand with creating the change we wish to see in the world,” she says.

This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Linda Cato is the assistant director and artist-in-residence at Changemaker High School in Tucson. For more information about Changemaker High School, please visit us online at changemakerhighschool.org.

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