Other classrooms have made friendship bracelets and taken them to kids at a children's hospital, tutored younger students, painted murals to beautify their school, written books to read to younger students who have trouble reading, and cleaned up and repaired the home of a physically challenged person.
Neil Brier, who teaches eighth-grade Life Skills classes at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan NH, has been using the Giraffe Heroes Program for several years. Brier has noted a definite increase in caring: in several instances class members have stood up for kids who were being taunted, and participation in the community service club has grown.
The most unusual project they've chosen to do involves bats. The kids got interested in bats when an old school nearby was converted into an inn. The largest bat population in New England was living in the building's attic. To head off the possible execution of the bats, the kids decided to educate the community on how cool bats are.
They did presentations throughout the community, explaining the bat's role in the ecosystem (one bat eats 2,000 mosquitoes every night and bat guano is excellent fertilizer). The kids discovered that one of the school's maintenance workers was a bat hobbyist who was eager to teach them how to make and place bathouses; the woodshop teacher helped the kids build them. The students enlisted the cooperation of the inn's owners and were allowed to make and place bathouses around the inn building. Instead of being killed, the bats moved from the attic to attractive new housing.
We believe this is a first—kids learning to be Giraffes by helping bats.
The Discovery School in Coupeville, Washington is a public school for kids who've had problems with school work and discipline. When one class at the school took on the Giraffe Heroes service-learning program, things really changed. Intrigued by the stories of heroes they read about in the program, the kids asked themselves what issue they cared about. The choice was easy. A student had almost been hit by a car speeding past the school grounds, ignoring the speed limit to get to the nearby ferry landing. The kids knew that this wasn't the only near-miss, and if something wasn't done, somebody was going to get seriously hurt. Making the streets around their school safe was their issue.
The students started off their project by videotaping speeding cars, clocking them, and graphing the results. Then they interviewed workers in the area about near-misses these people had seen. With that data in hand, they got a State trooper to confirm their findings with his radar gun. They got one of the county commissioners to visit their school, to see the problem for himself, then made a formal presentation to all the commissioners. The result was a $12,000 traffic light, a crosswalk and the admiration of everyone who witnessed what they'd accomplished. The students themselves experienced the satisfaction of service, the power of teamwork—and their own value as people who could get an important job done.
Back when she was an eighth-grader, Sarah Swagart decided it was wrong for young skateboarders to be treated like criminals in her town, Oak Harbor, Washington. Kids who “skated” in Oak Harbor’s parking lots and on its sidewalks were threatened with fines of as much as $500 and 90 days in jail. Sarah, not a skateboarder herself, could see that the kids might be annoying, but they definitely didn’t deserve treatment like that. The skaters were nobody special, she thought—just boys who needed a place to exercise their sometimes awesome skills.
Sarah formed “Nobody Special,” an organization whose mission is to get the skateboarders their own place to practice—and to get the community to recognize them as good athletes, not hoodlums.
Sarah shared her vision with a local architect, who volunteered to design a skateboard park. But there had to be some place to put it. Sarah realized that no matter how much it scared her to speak in public, she had to start talking if the kids were going to get some land and build their park. She wrote up a petition for land and got signatures from kids, teachers, police officers, and even some store owners. Leading a delegation of 40 kids, she stood before the City Council and pointed out that the town had baseball fields, basketball courts, a roller rink and a swimming pool where kids could do the sports of their choice. What would be so different about accommodating the skateboarders?
The City Council agreed there could be a park next to the public swimming pool. Then Sarah and the skateboarders got a commitment from the SeaBees at nearby Whidbey Naval Air Station to do the construction work. They got local businesses to donate materials. And they organized a series of events to raise the rest of the money needed. The skaters park is now a reality.
My name is Luisa Bigger and I’m a high school counselor in Tavernier, FL this story is about Jonathan—a kid who needed a boost in confidence.
“Ms. B, I guess I’m not really a Giraffe. I can’t do this,” he told me as the class was about to start discussing stories of Giraffes. “There is just no way I can get up in front of those kids and tell the story of the Earth Defenders. You need to get someone smarter who can figure it all out.”
I had been ready to pull my hair out before Jonathan came to me, and this was almost the last straw. Six of my high school students and I had accepted a request from our public library to offer a summer Giraffe program to a mixed-age group whose parents needed a safe place for them to be during the day. We had agreed before discovering how difficult a task it would be.
The children were from 5 to 14, a difficult gap to span, and they were easily distracted and undisciplined. The seven of us all wondered how we had managed to get ourselves into such a frustrating situation and if we could possibly teach the Giraffe curriculum in a positive manner.
Each week that we met brought new challenges, especially about attendance. Parents would pull their children out of our sessions for shopping trips, or new parents would “dump” their children off for one or two sessions. We began to feel like glorified babysitters.
But we managed to teach the children about the mission of the Giraffe program well enough that when new ones came to the library, our “students” would quickly clue them in. We had made it beautifully through the “Hear the story” stage, reading them stories of people of all ages who had made significant contributions to their communities.
Now, our six student leaders were tasked with preparing a presentation of a specific story in the curriculum, demonstrating to the younger students how to do “Tell the story. One of the six became ill and had already called and said she couldn’t come to this session and now dear, gangly Jonathan was refusing to try to overcome his innate shyness and lack of self-confidence. I kept telling him that he could more than manage to deliver a presentation, at the same time that I resigned myself to having to do his assigned story as well as the other student’s. I reviewed my decision about including Jonathan in our project, remembering how I had hesitated about this very shyness and lack of self-confidence on his part. But I trusted him; good grades had never come easy to him, but he was a very hard worker.
Late that night I got a phone call from Jonathan telling me yet again that he was so sorry, but he just couldn’t do it. He kept telling me he wasn’t smart enough. Nothing I could say seemed to calm him, so I pulled out a copy of my Giraffe stories and boned up on the Earth Defenders, a group of young people in St. Louis Missouri who were environmental activists.
The next morning Jonathan was among the first to arrive and promptly began helping the other Giraffe teachers carry their materials to the large meeting room reserved for our weekly Giraffe activity. I was surprised to see him; I had assumed he would skip this meeting out of embarrassment. He hung his head a bit, but then looked at me (with those big puppy dog eyes) and said, “I couldn’t let you down; I want to try. But I can tell you now it won’t be as good as the others.”
All of the other student teachers just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Just do it!”
We welcomed the incoming children, took attendance, noting the two new ones who had been left at the library for ”babysitting.” Our regular attendees quickly brought them up to speed on Giraffe facts and Giraffe qualities. Then the teen teachers began sharing their stories of the day.
Jonathan hung back and went last, shy till the end. In fact, at the end, he left the room and I was thinking, “There he goes, looks like you have to do it after all.” But then with a dramatic flourish, Jonathan bounded back into the meeting room carrying a large plastic trash bag. Before we could blink, he had upended the bag and dramatically thrown trash all over the library floor. We all gasped— sacrilege, the library floor defiled!.
Jonathan had created fake garbage and used it to capture, in that one decisive movement, the rapt attention of everyone in the room. He began what turned out to be a compelling telling of the Earth Defenders’ story, etching in our minds each detail as he pulled from a canvas bag visual cues to each part of the story. When he spoke of the long hours of sacrifice, he pulled out a clock. When he talked about the community affected, he pulled out a map for all of us to see just where the Earth Defenders lived and did their work. There must have been a dozen items in that bag.
When he finished and put the empty bag down, the room was silent. Everyone looked at each other and then erupted into wild applause. Jonathan had done an incredible job of winning our attention, of motivating the children, and of demonstrating that he, indeed, had the right stuff. I knew that Jonathan had done far more than a good job; he had done a superlative one—he even managed to touch on the Seven Neckbones of the Giraffe program.
And Jonathan—Jonathan was ten feet tall. This too-shy-to-speak teen said, “Once I started, I found out I could do it.”
We all learned a lesson that day; we all learned how powerful storytelling can be in capturing the hearts and minds of an audience; the children learned about telling the story; the student teachers learned to give their best in what they attempted; and Jonathan learned that he could indeed do something that seemed impossible. He basked in everyone’s admiration and showed himself eager to take on more tasks. And as for me, I learned that what I knew as a Giraffe trainer really was true, that everyone has Giraffe qualities.
Jonathan asked me to write letters of recommendation when he applied to colleges. Given his less-than-perfect grade point, he was concerned that he might not be accepted. It was a pleasure to be able to write about Jonathan’s experiences as a teen teacher of Giraffe Heroes that summer, to tell “To Whom it May Concern” about his subsequent service work, to describe his wonderful spirit, and his courage.
Jonathan is now in college in Colorado, and doing very well.
The Swamp Kids
Kids today just watch television and make trouble, right? Wrong. Consider the swamp Kids, 12 sixth and seventh graders in Franklin County, Georgia. swamp stands for Solid Waste Management Plan, which is what these kids wrote and delivered to their county government! Implementation of their 756-page plan has extended the life of Franklin County’s dump by at least 20 years.
It all started when the kids brainstormed ways they could help lighten the loads of trash going into the dump. They could do recycling projects in their town, and an educational campaign on using less and re-using what people already had. But State law said every county must have a plan for dealing with its solid wastes; Franklin was months away from a $10,000-a-day fine for having no plan.
The kids decided they could write the needed plan. Presenting their case to startled officials, they proved they already knew more than anybody around about waste management—they’d done plenty of homework. They got a green light and set to work.
As they got deeper and deeper into Franklin’s trash, the kids challenged the county’s data on how much waste was being generated. They countered a plan to close the dump and pay high fees to truck wastes out of the county, proving that wise use of the landfill would keep it going—their plan reduced intake at the site by 25%.
Repeatedly, the kids were greeted with something less than enthusiasm when they came up with information and ideas that conflicted with those of adults. But today, Franklin County can thank 12 of its kids for saving not only the dump and the $10,000-a-day fine, but also the mega-dollars that a consulting firm would have charged to write the highly-praised plan.
The effect of the Giraffe Heroes Program on students can be profound. My name is Kathy Frazier and I’m an elementary/middle school gifted teacher in Kent, OH. Let me tell you about just one of the many kids I’ve guided through the Program.
Kyle was in my third grade class, and he reacted immediately to a Giraffe story I told about a Giraffe hero named Trevor, who started sticking his neck out when he was not much older than my students. Trevor was concerned about the homeless and insisted on giving a blanket to a homeless man. Then he kept going, getting hundreds of people to share his concern and do what they could to help.
The class sat in silence for several seconds after the story. Then Kyle raised his hand.
"My mom, my sister and I stayed in the homeless shelter right here in our city for a whole month. It's a very nice place, but I think maybe they could use some blankets too." He looked around the class. "What do say? Do you think we should help them?"
The class was inspired both by Trevor and by Kyle. Before the bell rang they decided to do “Project Blankets.” The next day they created a plan and in no time they had made a big donation box and created posters and announcements.
But it didn’t work. After two weeks of promoting their project, the blanket box held only two blankets . The kids were frustrated and disappointed. It was time for me to ask, “Why do you think kids aren’t donating to our project?”
It turned out that most of the students in the school didn’t have any extra blankets at home nor the money to buy new ones. There were a lot of long faces in the room until Kyle again spoke up.
"The Homeless Shelter needs other stuff besides blankets. Why don't we give them a call?"
The kids got a list of needed items such as light bulbs, Kleenex, and tooth-paste. They changed the project name to “Project Stuff." Now everyone could contribute and the donation box began to fill up. In June, the "stuff" was delivered to the Social Service Agency by 23 beaming third-graders.
School was out, the Giraffe Project was over—I thought. But in July I got a call.
"Hello, this is Kyle ... you know from Project Stuff?
Students don’t usually call me at home, and I don’t think any of them had ever called in the summer.
"We have a real mess out here at my apartment complex,” Kyle explained. “There’s litter everywhere and the landscaping is all sand, rocks, and weeds. I think this is a job for the Giraffe Project!”
“Kyle, remember the stories about Giraffes? They see a problem and they get to work on it. I think you’re just the person to stick your neck out and fix this one.”
In the fall, Kyle told me that he’d done just that. "That set me off!” he reported. “I called everyone I know and went around my neighborhood to ask for volunteers. I also called a garden club and they were glad to help me out. They donated 50 flats of flowers!"
After two weeks of hard work by Kyle and the people he enlisted, the unsightly environment had been transformed into a beautiful garden of mums and marigolds.
And it didn’t stop there. Jason Crowe, a young Giraffe who started a kids’ newspaper that rallies them into service, spoke at our school. Kyle, inspired all over again, started a school newspaper called The Advocate that reported good news about kids in our school. The paper received such rave reviews that he won a $900 grant to continue it the following year.
That’s how the Giraffe Heroes Program has affected just one of my students. It goes right to their hearts, involving them in their world in a giving, valuable way and helping them achieve more than they ever imagined. There are a lot of Kyles out there who know how competent they are, because they’ve done this program.
The Wizard of Wartsville
My name is Turner Prewitt and I’m a businessman who’s been helping facilitate the Giraffe Heroes Program in Seattle schools for the last four years. Each year when we choose a problem that will become the Giraffe service project, I have my doubts we will choose something we can really accomplish and that will have an impact. Fortunately, I’ve learned that these are my own fears, because the kids and their teacher just forge right ahead and do just fine!
Two years ago our 2 nd grade class at Lafayette Elementary in West Seattle decided that they wanted to do something about littering. This turned into a two-part project. The first part was a neighborhood litter pick-up. The kids thoroughly enjoyed being outside, running down any piece of trash they could find. Their enthusiasm was elevated to near frenzy when one boy, Ceferino, found a $5 bill in the bushes. Word spread quickly among the teams that there was “GOLD “ to be found out there.
As we walked along the sidewalks, business owners of several small shops came out to ask what we were doing. The kids shouted that they were picking up litter. Smiles replaced the concerned looks on the owners’ faces and they showered the kids with Thank you's.
Soon we approached the neighboring high school, which the class already had determined to be the home of the worst litter bugs of all. This turned out to true. The kids picked up a lot of litter, especially from the bushes around the school.
In fact, the littering at the high school was so bad that it sparked the second part of the kids’ project—writing and performing a play about litter, based on the book, “The Wizard of Wartsville.” The gist of the plot is that Mother Nature gives the Wizard a special power to make litter stick to people who throw it, just by pointing his finger at them.
I helped a group of eight children write the script. The writing went well, with much input—sometimes all at once! Susan, the kids’ teacher, helped them finish the job. The play had parts for just about everybody in the class, including a narrator, the Wizard, the Sheriff, Dr. Splint, a lady who litters and gets a bag of garbage stuck to her bottom, and the gourmet motorcycle club and senior citizens football team, both of whom have picnics and make big messes.
Any kids who didn’t get parts helped make the props and stage-managed the rehearsals and the performance.
The kid performed the play twice, once for their own school and parents, and again for the high school. About fifty high schoolers came over to the elementary school cafeteria, which doubles as the theatre. They all sat on the floor and watched the play—which ends with the whole cast yelling, "You better watch out what you throw down on the ground “‘cuz it might come back and stick to you!”
The performance was followed by a question and answer session. Several high-schoolers asked why the kids choose littering as the subject for their play and what they learned from their experience. The 2 nd graders answered unabashedly that they got the idea for the play after they found so much garbage outside the high school. What they learned was that teenagers were the worst litter bugs!
There was laughter from teachers, adults and 2nd graders— and an embarrassed silence from the teenagers. The project had made its point—that awareness is 90% of the solution.