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By: Nate Morris, senior editor
In a packed auditorium at the Tulsa Community College Center for Creativity, students from seven schools presented their semester-long projects to change their school and the greater Tulsa community for the better.
The Tulsa Changemakers Pitch Night featured young leaders from Kendall Whittier, Springdale and Ellen Ochoa elementary schools, Nathan Hale and Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences (TSAS) middle schools, and Hale and McLain high schools.
The organization, spearheaded by Teach For America alumni Jake Lerner and Andrew Spector, began in 2016 as a means of empowering “promising young leaders to drive positive impact in Tulsa right now and into the future.”
Last night, hundreds of community members listened as Changemakers presented their projects which focused solutions to on a range of issues, including improving student student sense of belonging, rooting out issues of discrimination, and fighting for criminal justice reform.
At TSAS (a charter school located in Owen Park), students Ben, Journee, Harper, Jaden, Aneesa and Natalie created a project that allowed their classmates to garner a deeper understanding of the toll discrimination takes. The activity, designed to simulate examples of privilege, was intended to open the eyes of their classmates who may not experience instances of discrimination regularly.
“It was a long process,” Ben said of the design work needed to create the project, “it took time and a lot of focus. Our teacher, Ms. Ortiz, was there helping us out.”
“We didn’t have any boundaries,” Ben continued, “we just kept going.”
The TSAS middle school Changemakers hope that their simulation will expand to the high school and other schools across the district as well.
“I hope that people realize how discrimination impacts people and how they can stop it,” said TSAS student Natalie.
At Nathan Hale High School, Emily, Sheila, Lisset and Adriana also combatted the discrimination they observe each day at Nathan Hale High School. With the help of their mentor, Ms. Kasey Hughart, they raised $175 and hosted a “Cultural Diversity Night” for over 100 people in the school’s cafeteria.
“It felt great making a change,” said Lisset, “it was a lot of work, but it was all worth it.”
The students hope to make the event a tradition and plan to host it again in the Spring. “Our event was a success,” said Adriana, “and for the Spring we hope to make it bigger with more people and more food.”
The Changemakers said they want to increase their budget to $500 and boost attendance. They also hope to support other schools in hosting similar Cultural Diversity Nights in order to continue to reduce discrimination and increase understanding.
“We’re all hoping to see less discrimination, racism and classism,” Lisset continued, “We’re hoping that this event changes the perspective of people… at the end of the day, we’re all human.”
Students from all schools wowed the crowd with the monumental work they were able to accomplish in the short span of time.
Changemakers from Kendall Whittier collected 792 items to help homeless individuals in their neighborhood.
At Nathan Hale Junior High, these student leaders hosted 25 peers and teachers in a pilot mindfulness and mediation program for the school.
Springdale Elementary Changemakers designed and implemented new hallway procedures and a “Big Buddy, Little Buddy” program to improve student relationships.
The McLain student leaders surveyed over 200 of their peers and collected feedback in order to start new clubs that help all students feel included at the school.
And at Ellen Ochoa, young Changemakers created a video to educate the community on issues of incarceration and the need for criminal justice reform.
The work of these Changemakers will continue as they become alumni of the program and encourage other young leaders to create change in their community.
Alumni Alma and Matthew, who created projects around reducing the stigma of teen pregnancy and improving student engagement in school respectively during their work as a part last semester’s cohort, addressed the crowd at the end of the program.
The two Tulsa high schoolers have been selected to be part of the Critical Issues Summit in Taiwan over the summer and asked the crowd for assistance in raising $11,000 to attend and learn about tackling issues of gender inequality. They said they hope to take what they have learned and use it to continue creating change throughout the city.