Meghan Agnew’s students at Key School were intrigued by the idea that they would be able to connect civic action to their classroom learning. As relatively new arrivals to the country, they are native speakers of other languages–mostly Spanish. When Ms. Agnew explained that, besides just learning English and other other academic subjects, they could select a social issue to focus on for their project, they were filled with ideas and endlessly debated the possibilities. It was easy to look around and name a lot of things that they’d like to change. Why was it so hard to access health care? Why should people struggle to pay for housing and food after working so hard? One student named it clearly, “People need money. You can’t have anything that you need without money.” At first this seemed like a chance to explore financial literacy. Ms. Agnew provided a sample budget and they could clearly see that working full time with a minimum wage job was far from enough to pay for basic necessities. It was time to dig deeper and explore some complex ideas like “wealth” and “income.”
In exploring this issue students got to meet with several people who work hard to make a difference for folks in Philadelphia struggling to make ends meet. Mr. Harold Barrow from ACHIEVEability. He named affordable housing as a key factor in breaking cycles of poverty. The work of ACHIEVEability stresses education as the avenue for employment that provides a living wage.
A guest speaker from Puentes de Salud answered many important questions and shared how Puentes helps folks bridge the gap between the expensive basic needs and the many additional costs that come for new immigrants. The students learned how important it is to advocate for policies that support thriving communities. As she shared the many resources available students became interested in creating a brochure to help local residents access support services. They had researched the legal services available from the Nationalities Service Center earlier. But the vision of a single brochure with multiple resources was the inspiration to do even more research and create a thorough list.
What did they do about the issue?
As the school year was winding down students met with Philadelphia City Councilmember Kendra Brooks who came to their class to hear about their concerns. She shared her own story of running for office because she was a passionate advocate for helping struggling families. Her own experience struggling to pay for housing and healthcare drove her to work to make a difference for others at the policy level. She was so glad to hear about the brochure and wants to share it with her constituents. Of course, she said to add her office as a resource as well.
Students are proud of their final project–a beautifully student-illustrated brochure called “Todos Podemos” (Together We Can) and we know it will help many people in the community as they face challenges as new immigrants. The learning in this classroom went deep, from rich vocabulary to complex concepts and conversations about wealth inequality and social policy. We recognize the great gifts these students bring to Philadelphia with their deep conviction and example of how TOGETHER we can make a difference.