There’s an old quote from French philosopher Albert Schweitzer:
“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility to evaporate.“
Like any Yellowknife resident during the harsh winters, Sir John Franklin High School students put their head down and trudge through.
The snow. The cold. The darkness.
Did I mention the cold?
Just as the buds of spring develop, so do the results of the students hard work.
At Sir John Franklin, the students are required to complete the Citizenship Project: an assignment designed to create responsible, active and engaged citizens. Head of the Social Studies Department at the school, Landon Kowalzik, says that the hardest part is hitting all three of those points.
“It’s difficult to actually get the students actively engaged in the citizenship part outside of the classroom. This project is designed to do just that. What the students have to do is they have to choose an issue that affects either the community, the country or the world as a whole. They begin by researching the issue to fully understand the problem and then from there they have to try to address one small part of whatever the issue is.”
The plan is to benefit the community through the persistent guilt of grades. (I kid, obviously.)
Kowalzik says that the overall lesson is that students need to know that they can make a difference; they can be heard.
“A lot of students feel like, either they’re too young or because they’re just one person that they can’t make any actual change in the world. We’re trying to teach them that it doesn’t matter how small of an action it is, you can benefit the lives of people.”
Three students in particular have experienced the sensational feeling of giving back.
Nicolas Bennett entered a team into the annual Gumboot Rally. His 3-person squad raised $1,135 for the Yellowknife Association for Community Living.
“The project helped me see the community differently. It felt nice helping people out and the fact that I helped contribute to a new Rally high in donations is incredible. To think that that goes toward your community and to people in need, it’s just a really great feeling.”
Another student raised money for a good cause. Bethany Giovanetto joined with the Yellowknife Rotary Club to raise money for Shelter Box, an international disaster relief organization. As a musician, Bethany put on a concert where she and her musical students performed. In total, she raised $1,800, and the number keeps growing.
“I just received a $20 donation from our librarian and it’s really shown me how great giving to the community can really be. It’s nice to see how people can come together to support a cause that they might not be aware of fully. They just want to help.”
It’s like something out of a sappy, early-2000’s Disney movie. A community raising money to support a cause through the power of kindness. Nicolas was shown that helping people can feel incredible. Bethany’s experience showed her that people just want to help. With the raised money, you can see change; you can see support. It’s substantially and objectively visible.
For Lauren Seabrook’s case, the benefits of her work are closer to home. She created a support group called ‘The F.I.G.H.T. Project’.
“It’s a place for struggling youth to exist as they are. They can let go of any words or frustrations that are bothering them.”
Lauren has been diagnosed with mental illnesses herself, so the opportunity to help others in her situation, to let them know that they’re not alone, is a major part of why she’s attached herself to this project.
“It’s not fair how, if you come to school with crutches or a broken arm, people come rush to help you, but when people figure out that you suffer from depression; or are super anxious; or are having P.T.S.D. flashbacks, then you end up being judged for it. You can’t function [in that environment] everyday.”
She wants to put an end to the stigma surrounding mental illness. Lauren launched a video recently that looks to open up the discussion on mental health. Thanks to the video, she’s given herself her confidence back.
“I’m not ashamed of it. It’s out there. If people think less of me then that’s their problem. I’m human, I will grow. I hope people can share their stories and not be silenced.”
Landon says that this is what the project is ultimately about. You can learn so much from reading a book. You can learn so much from solving algebraic equations. Those things alone don’t ultimately grow an actively engaged individual. He hopes that an assignment like the Citizenship Project will be a step in the right direction to developing people, not just students.
“When students take the time to actually understand the issues, they become a lot more empathetic towards people with those issues. We have this innate responsibility to try and make our community better. There’s often a lot of growth in that. Students will become more civic minded.”
People just want to help. All it takes is kindness to remove those little slivers of misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility.