WE Got This! U. City Schools Make the Spotlight as Part of the WE Movement
WE Got This!
U. City Schools Make the Spotlight as Part of the WE Movement
By Nancy Cambria
Director of Communications
Geronimo Thomas admitted to being a little nervous.
From a seat in the fourth row, The Jackson Park third-grader peered up at the big stage at the Stifel Theatre quietly with his dad. Not yet 10:15 in the morning, there had already been singers, laser lights, pop and T.V. stars, and a dance-off on the stage.
It was April 3, WE Day in St. Louis – essentially the Superbowl of community service celebrations. Geronimo and about 100 of his fellow U. City students from Jackson Park Elementary, Brittany Woods Middle and University City High School were invited to celebrate the service projects they had put together via WE Schools – a program founded by the WE Movement, a philanthropy to enable community service projects around the world. WE Day celebrations are held nationwide, but this was the first for St. Louis.
“Geronimo, are you ready?” Asked a woman who stopped by his seat with a headset and walkie-talkie. The four-foot boy got out of his chair, high-fived his dad and walked in his powder blue Converse high tops into the hush of a theater back hallway.
The usher turned out to be University City High School Grad Arika Parr, class of ’97, who volunteered for the day. She led him and two other students, a high school senior and a seventh grader from other school districts, through a maze of hallways. It was her job to get them backstage and into the cue line.
“You guys are going to rock this,” she said as they waited in the hallway.
It was almost show time.
Geronimo and the two other students had been chosen by their classmates to present their schools’ service projects on stage. It was an honor for sure, but it also meant Geronimo would need the courage to walk up on stage in front of 2,500 students from dozens of schools from all over the region and give a talk about Jackson Park’s Sustainability Expo, in which students educated the community about the need to reduce waste and recycle.
On top of that, Geronimo would appear on stage with a television star and was proceeding nationally-known speakers. They included Martin Luther King III. Gulp!
“What grade are you in?” asked the seventh-grader from St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School as they walked through a massive steel door into the cavernous backstage area.
“Third,” Geronimo said.
“Wow, I could have never done this in third,” the older boy said.
“Students want to be involved because their choice and passion directs the campaigns they design and support. At this point, students routinely come to me to suggest campaigns they want to work on. It’s changing the climate in our building,” said Brittany Woods teacher and WE Schools coordinator Anne Cummings.
WE Schools is the brainchild of Craig and Marc Kielburger, brothers who wanted to inspire students to make the world a better place. Designated WE Schools get training and resources to enable students to devise hands-on service projects. There are thousands of WE Schools nationwide. The projects not only help people, but build student leaders.
According to WE Schools, more than 80 percent of educators report the program makes their students more likely to take action to improve the lives of others in their own community and beyond. And 95 percent of educators say students demonstrated increased leadership in their schools. The projects typically motivate youth to go on to college.
Last summer, Brittany Woods middle schoolers Tae Shia Johnson, Mouhamed Ly, Lucy Rhoades, Emma Scharff and Alara Stuart were given scholarships to go to a WE To ME Take Action Camp in Tucson, Arizona. They returned to Brittany Woods with action plans for projects that included a community garden to feed nearby refugee families; water bottle filling stations in all elementary schools to cut down on waste from plastic bottles; a clothing and supply drive for the Loaves and Fishes Homeless shelter; and a demonstration bake sale where boys and girls were charged different prices to demonstrate the gender wage gap in America.
About 125 children at Brittany Woods participated in these and other programs this past year, including team efforts to, build awareness around student well-being and mental health; create a sixth grade “survival guide” for the incoming students; and publish a document entitled What We Wish Our White Teachers Knew, to enhance racial understanding.
“As a result of WE Schools, we have students collaborating with others outside of their grade level and social circles,” said Brittany Woods teacher and WE Schools coordinator Anne Cummings. “Students want to be involved because their choice and passion directs the campaigns they design and support. At this point, students routinely come to me to suggest campaigns they want to work on. It’s changing the climate in our building.”
There were about 20 WE Schools projects spread across the District’s elementary, middle and high schools this past school year.
At UCHS, 17 students were involved in WE projects addressing multiple community issues. The students spearheaded recycling and re-use efforts, water supply and quality advocacy, a supply drive for victims of Hurricane Maria, and a book drive to support youth literacy.
One of the high school projects was so unique, it was honored by WE Schools during the Stifel celebration. Senior Cabria Shelton was called out for her entry in the annual University City Mannequins on the Loop art competition. Shelton used entirely reclaimed materials to make her public art that encouraged re-use and recycling.
At Jackson Park Elementary, 29 students in grades 1 through 5, including Geronimo, also focused on sustainability, particularly waste management and disposal.
They toured a local recycling center and landfill. They created a video to teach their peers about how to reduce, reuse recycle and rot – a nod to composting. And they held a Sustainability Expo open to the entire community - the very event that Geronimo was getting ready to speak about in front of many hundreds of students.
There was a quiet bustle in the dark backstage area. Stagehands dressed in black spoke in whispers as they handed Geronimo and the two other students specially-designed WE microphones.
Then he and the other youth were introduced to a handsome young man in a white sweater, tennis sneakers and a Hollywood smile. His name was Marcus Scribner, an actor on the hit television show Blackish.
Geronimo and the others were escorted to wings of the stage. Standing behind heavy black curtains, a stage manager gave final instructions.
“You hold the microphone with one hand and you tilt it into your chin,” she said.
And then Geronimo got the go. He marched on stage in his high tops into the spotlight with Shelton and the two other students.
Geronimo had to wait his turn to speak. His classmates from Jackson Park were in the audience, not very far below where he stood on stage. Finally, it was his turn.
“So what are some of the great things you and your schools have been doing my man?” asked the T.V. star.
Loud and clear and without hesitation, Geronimo spoke into his microphone:
“I’m passionate about recycling and sustainability. I believe in the impact that waste management and up-cycling can make in local communities. So, with the help of my school, I organized a sustainability expo to spread awareness and raise money for recycling stations at school.
When he finished, the crowd went wild.
Jackson Park's Sustainability Expo - February 20, 2019