Words: Georgia Horton | Editor: Mohsin Mohi Ud Din
Changemaker High School, a charter school located near Tuscon, Arizona, is home to nearly 100 students that all identify as Changemakers. What does this mean? The curriculum, school culture, and social relationships are all designed around the notion that everyone -- teachers, students, school officials -- are capable to change the ecosystem around them.
For Oscar Medina, one of the founders of this designated Ashoka Changemaker School, it is all about teaching students to ask questions, engage their curiosity, and grow as leaders. "We teach students to develop and change systems that are problematic in today’s society; to not be comfortable with current systems, but instead, question them,” notes Oscar.
As a Changemaker Educator, he is aware of the challenges youth face outside of his classroom in Tuscon, Arizona. “I always feel like our students are on the verge of leaving school because of external factors impacting their lives. Things like poverty, substance abuse, and trauma, just to mention a few, are powerful forces that make our students so resilient yet these challenges can also keep them from accomplishing their academic goals.”
In order to utilize his students’ courage and tenacity, Oscar’s classroom-work encourages changemaker exploration. His entrepreneurship classes and dynamic group discussions have inspired his students to pursue and establish ventures of their own, and his specific classes explore the connection between nature and health.
As for the recently completed school year, Oscar said the changemaker methodology was a huge success. “The year concluded with a big bang. Watching our seniors graduate is always a huge accomplishment. I worked closely with several of those students for four years. Its has been amazing, watching them grow and follow their own passions.”
These accomplishments are best exemplified by sharing the stories of these young changemakers:
Paloma Martinez is a 16 year old sophomore at Changemaker High School. Paloma was discouraged by the lack of healthy fast food options in her neighborhood. She witnessed that the growing health issues in her community could be linked to the fast food chains, and saw a gap in the present food system. There was no healthy and fast food. Knowing that most of her fellow community members were choosing fast-paced options over health, Paloma explored the idea of starting a jar company that could transport healthy food options in on-the-go jars. Filling the gap between fast-paced and healthy food, Paloma’s idea, Locally Jarred, has it’s own Facebook and Instagram page and expanding healthy meal choices for the community.
Another student tackling access to healthy food is Sara Cruz. Her dream is to own a locally grown and sustainable food truck and restaurant that supplies community members with affordable and healthy food options. Like Paloma, Sara saw the lack of access to fresh and healthy food in her community as an unresolved issue threatening the development of her community. Upset by the challenge, but motivated by her two cultures Yaqui and Mexican, Sara plans to open a restaurant in her community called Traditional Taste.
It is students like Paloma and Sara that further convince Oscar how impactful the changemaker methodology is in regards to education. “Everyone on this planet has a brilliant gift. This ability to work with young minds that have the power to create and transform this world is a privilege. I learn so much about myself and my students as we engage on the most difficult journey of all time: to imagine and reimagine a better world that makes us feel proud to be apart of,” says Oscar.
Oscar explains that establishing this type of environment for students “helped us solidify a school culture around problem solving, empathy, and collaboration. We really believe that changemaker culture can create social innovators.”
Oscar cannot wait for the start of this upcoming school year, where his students will continue their own ventures, collaborate with their peers, and embark on new journeys. “I’m excited and motivated to meet the incoming 9th grade class and also reconnect and continue to build with our returning changemaker students. Some of our students are returning from summer abroad programs while others have continued to worked on their ventures.”
Oscar and his school are part of the #ChangemakerEd community, a global group of visionary educators and schools reimaging the education system by unlocking ways for every child to master empathy. Explore this network, co-created through Ashoka’s Start Empathy.
NOTE: Oscar is also piloting Youth Venture and Start Empathy’s “Storytelling for Changemakers” program, which leverages the process of communications and storytelling as tools to activate peer to peer healing, empathy, and changemaker voices for community-impact.