Reopening: Moving Toward More Equitable Schools
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Student Voices: How We Contributed to a Better World in a Pandemic

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    EL Education

Every year on Better World Day, students use their learning to positively impact their communities. This year, as the Coronavirus prevented communities from physically coming together, students built a movement online by galvanizing their communities to create Connections—videos, public art, letters, and cards of appreciation for courageous frontline workers and volunteers—and posting them on social media with #BetterWorldDay. Hear about the impact of Better World Day directly from students below or by watching students lead a virtual Closing Circle—a rally to engage hundreds of educators, families, students, and supporters from across the country in celebrating learning with a purpose.

Murphy Klassen, 4th grade, Joe Shoemaker Elementary, Denver, CO

I am one of the many Literacy Captains at my school, charged with the task of showing how literacy could make the world a better place. We were excited. We had plans...big plans. 

But everything we were going to do came to a sudden stop when the whole world faced something that we had never seen before in any of our lifetimes: a pandemic.

It seemed like, in a second, everything changed—the expeditions we were learning about, our plans for Celebrations of Learning, dance performances, Shakespeare festivals, EVERYTHING! That meant our plans for Better World Day too. Feeling sad about all of this was an understatement. But then all of the Literacy Captains got together, over zoom of course, and started talking. Was there still something we could do to make the world better? Or do something to help our community? We realized that now, more than ever, we needed to do exactly that. So, the other Literacy Captains from my school and I, decided that a great place to start would be to thank the essential workers in our community. We know that giving thanks can be an easy, but incredibly important part of doing service.

"It is important that we still celebrate Better World Day, even in a pandemic, because we are facing enormous challenges in each of our communities around the globe. When we come together to help we can make a big difference, and actually make the world better."

Murphy Klassen, 4th grade, Joe Shoemaker Elementary, Denver, CO

We started talking about who all of the essential workers in our community might be and realized that essential workers are not just doctors and nurses, but people like grocery store workers, people who make deliveries, garbage truck drivers, construction workers, and so many more.

We reached out to our community to get the names and organizations of people who served our community and we decided that we could start by writing letters and sending videos to thank them. We led our school, with help from teachers, in writing letters of gratitude, hanging gratitude signs, and contributing to Better World Day.

"Our hope was to make others feel seen and valued and inspire others to thank these heroes."

Lillian Sengsouly, 4th grade, Conway Elementary, Escondido, CA

Lillian Sengsouly, 4th grade, Conway Elementary, Escondido, CA

Our Better World Day activities were meaningful because we thanked essential workers from the heart. Each essential worker is important and is strong and brave. We used #BetterWorldDay to share our message with everyone all across the country. We posted them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. We also hung them up on our garage doors, front doors, and windows for the entire community to see.

“'It is better to work off a wounded arm than no arm at all.' Meaning, even though we can not physically be there to give them a hug and tell them everything will be okay, we can still help and put a smile on someone’s face from our home."

Umeiko McFarlane, 8th grade, Launch Charter School, Brooklyn, NY

The other captains and I wrote letters to individual nurses who work on the COVID-19 floor of a hospital. Right now we are all staying home and we don’t have a lot to do so it makes a difference to have a project like making Better world day thank you’s. Thank you to everyone who celebrated Better World Day with us.

Umeiko McFarlane, 8th grade, Launch Charter School, Brooklyn, NY

The Campaign Against Hunger (TCAH) is one of our long time partners at Launch. Usually, on Better World Day we volunteer with them in person by packing food or working on their urban farm. This year was a bit different.   

For those who do not know what TCAH is, it is a non-profit organization working vigorously to end hunger in the Bedford-Stuyvesant/Ocean Hill/Brownsville neighborhoods of Brooklyn. They have several farms and community gardens and a supermarket-style pantry to serve thousands of New Yorkers every day. Since March, they have provided more than one MILLION meals.  

To honor them on Better World Day, we hosted a virtual thank you ceremony for them. We shared our gratitude in all kinds of creative ways: through artwork, dance, and song.  

Although our way of showing gratitude is not the same as it used to be, it is still important that we show gratitude. Gratitude is something we all need to show and we all need to receive, especially in trying times like these. 

Even though we could not celebrate Better World Day like we usually do, that didn’t stop us from making this world better. I love the quote: “It is better to work off a wounded arm than no arm at all.” Meaning, even though we can not physically be there to give them a hug and tell them everything will be okay, we can still help and put a smile on someone’s face from our home.