Kristen LaScola teaches a song a week to her third grade students in Hudson, OH. As a musician, she sees the value of incorporating music into her classroom. One song that she taught her students two years ago has sparked a movement that spread from the third grade that first year up to the fourth and fifth grades last year, with plans already in place to get the entire K-12 district involved this fall.
The song is called "We Can," by Philadelphia native Jesse Ruben. It’s about how people can make a difference in the world, and educators across the United States and Canada have embraced the message and the experiential learning approach inherent to it. More than 125,000 students at the elementary, middle and high school levels have participated in “I Can” or “We Can” projects since 2013, when a teacher from Vancouver Island emailed Ruben and told him that her students were inspired by his song.
Ruben later connected with other educators to design and create The We Can Project, which LaScola and other teachers have come to see as a highlight of the academic year — along with parents and students, too.
“The first time we did it was two years ago, and I still have parents reach out to me and say, ‘This was life-changing for my kid,’” LaScola said.
Her 8- and 9-year-old students, when faced with the challenge of creating projects that capitalize on their ability to change the world, have chosen to form a basketball league, raise money to help dogs find good homes, create a recycling facility, raise money for cancer awareness and research, say something kind to someone different every day, and donate time and toys to children who are “bored” in the hospital.
LaScola has incorporated The We Can Project into her curriculum in a lesson about researched opinion writing, which is part of the Common Core. Students research their ideas, argue their opinions about why they are important, and describe how they were going to make the change.
Kevin Reimer, principal of Lake Trail Middle School in Vancouver Island, says the program allowed kids of all ages to understand that they can positively impact their community.
“They have come to learn that leading from where they stand is about making a commitment to improve the lives and the circumstances of the people around them,” Reimer is quoted as saying on The We Can Project website. “The students are most empowered, engaged and motivated when they use their many gifts to enrich the lives of the other around them.”
LaScola certainly found this to be true in her classroom. A group of her students who have behavioral problems and learning disabilities struggled throughout much of the school year. While working on their We Can projects, however, they were completely engaged. And their success instilled a level of confidence in themselves they may not have gotten otherwise.
“Watching those kids struggle throughout the year and end up on top has been awesome,” LaScola said.
Now the principal of LaScola’s school is ready to turn the challenge on teachers. If kids can come up with ways to change the world, what can they do?