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"Telling Stories from the Margins of History"

EL Education is celebrating Better World Day, an annual, national event showcasing student learning that contributes to a better world. Students present learning projects and engage in acts of service that demonstrate the power of EL Education’s vision for public school: a place where children become great scholars and active citizens with the capacity to make a positive impact. In this series, students and teachers from EL Education schools across the country share what Better World Day means to them.

Kailani Figueroa and Piper Mathiau are 6th-grade students helping lead a Better World Day project at Old Sturbridge Academy Charter Public School, an EL Education school in Sturbridge, MA.

Kids Contributing To A Better World

“Last year, we learned about human rights by studying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by reading the novel Esperanza Rising from the EL Education curriculum,” shares sixth-grade student Piper Mathiau. “We looked at the different points of view from the characters, some whose rights had been violated. One of our guiding questions was, How can we raise awareness of human rights?” Piper and her classmate Kailani Figueroa realized that to answer that question, they would need to expand their own knowledge and understanding of people’s personal stories.

Kailani says, “We realized that we needed to look at different points of view. Because our school is on a living history museum site, we started with the stories that we have here.”

“We learned a lot about life in New England in the past, but we also wondered which stories were not being told.”

The pair decided to expand the scope of their original project via their school’s Better World Day project.

The Better World Day project at Old Sturbridge Academy Charter Public School is named Lifting Every Voice. Students research and write an original book about civil rights leaders, citizens, events, buildings, and objects from New England during the 19th century, focusing on untold stories often pushed to the margins. The project engages every student from kindergarten to seventh grade in meaningful, collaborative work.

Piper says, “We want to find the untold stories from early 19th-century New England, and we want to bring them to life. For Better World Day, we will get our whole K-7 Crew to help us. Our goal is to learn the untold stories and tell them. We plan to create a book to share in the Village and throughout New England. We hope visitors to our campus will have even more to learn about and from in the future.”

Student Work That Matters

Thousands of students all over the country like Kailaini and Piper will gather virtually or in-person on Better World Day in celebration of the compelling work they’ve done throughout the school year, and to continue to make an impact via service-learning projects and civic engagement. Kailani says, “Being part of such a big and important project that many other people in the future will learn from means that I can make a difference in the future too.”

“Being part of such a big and important project that many other people in the future will learn from means that I can make a difference in the future too."

Kailani, 6th-grade student

Lifting Every Voice will ultimately enable people to learn about history from multiple perspectives across lines of race, gender and socioeconomic backgrounds. Old Sturbridge students like Kailani and Piper hope to solve the problem of history traditionally coming from the viewpoint of White, male historical figures while continuously marginalizing other groups. Kailani and Piper believe that kids can be even better at solving social problems than adults. While adults may struggle to think outside the box or be bogged down by negative thoughts or judgments, students have “more open minds,” especially if they learn to value diversity and understand that there can be many different approaches to solving problems. Piper says, “It makes me happy and proud at the same time to know that in the future, when visitors come to Old Sturbridge Village, they will be able to learn from all these diverse stories.”

*EL Education is proud to host diverse voices and offer a platform for dialogue on topics impacting educators and students. Views of guest bloggers are their own and may differ from the views of EL Education.

To hear more voices from EL Education school communities reflecting on Better World Day, discover blog posts from the series below.

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    Kailani Figueroa and Piper Mathiau