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Spotlight blogs celebrate excellence in our Learning Innovation Network. This Spotlight is co-written with Megan Justice, a social studies teacher at our  Building 21 Allentown Lab School in eastern Pennsylvania. Find out how Justice helps her students find passion for global issues and then shows them how they can impact the world.

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.

Learning Cycle

The amount of time it takes to implement a studio, which begins with a problem frame and culminates with an authentic implementation of their solution. Learning cycles vary in length, usually lasting between 6-12 weeks.

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

ELA.2 Express Ideas

I can clearly and effectively express my ideas (in written and oral form) for particular purposes and audiences, using diverse formats and settings to inform, persuade, and connect with others.

SS.3 Make an Impact

I can analyze enduring problems to take individual or collective action to positively impact my community.

SS.2 Analyze People and Perspectives

I can analyze multiple perspectives from credible sources to understand events in the past and present and to evaluate the importance of individuals and groups in shaping those events.

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. 

Students also:

      • 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.

Are you interested in finding out about the skills students practiced for Advocacy Day? You can find the ELA.2 Express Ideas here  and SS.3 Make an Impact continua here.

If you’d like to request a free consultation with Building 21 to see how we can help you design powerful competency and project based experiences for your students, please reach out to us here.


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

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

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