Integrated Social Studies II teacher Megan Justice challenges young people to think about how they can apply their power to insist upon fair treatment for workers. At first, many students believe they cannot achieve an impact on a global scale. Little do they know that within the next five months, Justice will not only teach them how they can indeed achieve individual impact on global issues, students will also invite others to advocate alongside them.
Preparing For Advocacy Day
Integrated Social Studies II begins with investigating colonialism and its effects. This includes learning about countries in the southern hemisphere exploited for their natural resources related to the production of coffee, chocolate, bananas, and textiles. Next, students learn about the workers who produce these staples and how they can use their own purchasing power to support fair trade practices.
Then in Learning Cycle 2, Justice and her students research international conflict and genocide. At the end of this studio, learners identify a population at risk for genocide and examine methods of leveraging human rights advocacy skills to pressure leaders to act.
Finally, these learning cycles culminate in a special exhibition called Advocacy Day. Students choose between the two topics they studied: fair trade or genocide. Next, students design a visual presentation that must include an action step, such as purchasing fair trade brands, writing emails to representatives, or signing petitions.
Advocacy Day is not only an opportunity for students to impact the world, but is also an opportunity for personalized learning so each student can tailor the experience to help fulfill missing competency requirements. Justice offered opportunities for all students to be rated on the ELA.2 Express Ideas and SS.3 Make an Impact continua. She also provided opportunities to earn extra competencies, such as SS.2.1 Analyze primary sources.
The aim of Advocacy Day, says Justice, is “for kids to recognize they have the power to make an impact. During class, I joke with them all the time that they’re changing the world today. By the end of Advocacy Day, they realize they have the power!”
Advocacy Day Competencies
Advocacy Day 2022
In January, 105 students participated in Advocacy Day, 45 more than last year. Justice relied on students with Advocacy Day experience to set up the cafeteria, since they already understood the expectations and layout needs. Displays were set up on long tables around the room so guests could easily move around the space and engage with presenters.
- hosted a table where they offered samples of free trade coffee, tea, chocolate and bananas
- sponsored a silent auction where participants dropped tickets into boxes to win various free trade goods
Once classmates, staff, and guests arrived, it was time to educate them about these issues and convince them to act. Not only were these topics important to Justice’s students, there was also an opportunity for some friendly competition. Attendees received one “golden ticket” to vote for the project that best advocated for their issue. The team with the most golden tickets received money to donate to an organization related to their cause. This prize money came from a loose change jar in Justice’s classroom that students donated to over the course of the semester.
Vanice Dos Santos Baptista, Dania Canales Velasquez, and Isaury Olivares won 2022 Advocacy Day. They educated the audience about the chocolate industry’s reliance on child labor and donated their prize money to the Fair Trade USA to support sustainability initiatives. Vanice, Dania, and Isuary reflected, “We learned that being uneducated consumers makes us complicit in a network of exploitation of workers who are only looking to make enough money to survive. We are proud to raise our voices and awareness because this treatment must stop.”
Reflections and Next Steps
Overall, students reacted enthusiastically to their Advocacy Day experiences. Nyaja Thomas said, “I loved Advocacy Day. It challenged me to do my best so I could compete with my classmates and make a difference in the world. It also helped me develop my presentation and public speaking skills.”
Students also enjoyed taking this academic risk and learned how they can affect change through strong literacy skills. So that Advocacy Day can continue to improve, students suggested allocating more time for the exhibition and finding a larger room to more easily accommodate students, projects, guests, and vendors.
Building 21 Allentown school leadership also values Advocacy Day. Supervisor of Instruction Kristyn Ryan Senneca says, “Megan is one of the most passionate and committed educators I’ve ever worked with. Our students see her passion and they become instantly committed to their learning experience. Advocacy Day was one of those experiences where she sparked students’ curiosity and sustained inquiry that allowed students to harness their power to make a difference. Our entire learning community feels the ripple effects of these student celebrations of learning.”
Advocacy Day is a highlight of Justice’s school year because “students are very proud of themselves for doing something good that day. They have fun and feel successful while spending time together.” In this era of high-stakes testing and post-Covid fallout, she is proud to see students at Building 21 Allentown “ use their minds and hearts during Advocacy Day.”
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 2023 Job Outlook report , the number one competency for career readiness is communication. Unfortunately, only 46% of recent graduates are considered to be proficient in this competency when they enter the workforce. Fortunately, exhibitions of learning like Advocacy Day not only help build these valuable communication skills, they prove that the application of these skills can have a powerful impact.
Heather Harlen is an instructional coach and designer for Building 21’s Learning Innovation Network. She has over twenty years of classroom teaching experience and was a founding team member of Building 21 Allentown. You can contact her at email@example.com.
Megan Justice has taught at Building 21 Allentown for six years and leads the social studies department. She also uses her musical talents to co-direct the school choir. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.