Kindergarten Advocates

“Who remembers the environmental advocates we’ve learned about?” Kindergarten teacher Alana Cimillo asked her group of students as images appeared on the board.

Several hands shot up in the air, as they recognized displayed book titles, including “Seeds of Change” and “One Plastic Bag.”

To recap, one student explained that through the book “One Plastic Bag,” they learned the story of Isatou Ceesay, a young woman who noticed that plastic bags were piling up in Gambia, Africa, and that goats were eating the plastic and becoming gravely ill.

“So, what did Isatou do?” asked Ms. Cimillo. Students noted that she collected all of the bags to make special reusable bags, using the plastic as thread.

In prior lessons, the students learned about two other remarkable young women who created change. Wangari Maathai, who planted trees and plants, with the help of her community, to preserve the planet and save animals’ homes, and Mari Copeny, who distributed clean water bottles to the residents of Flint, Michigan and wrote to the President at the time (Barack Obama) urging him to implement a new filtration system.

Next, Ms. Cimillo showed the class “An ABC of Equality,” a book written by Chana Ginelle Ewing, and highlighted three important letters: E, H and J.

“What does our first letter stand for?” Ms. Cimillo asked, pointing to the word underneath the large bold E.

“Equality!” cheered the students.

“Correct! Everyone should have the same opportunities to love, learn and grow. No one should be treated differently because of where they come from, what they look like or believe,” their teacher read.

They then discovered that the letter H stood for Human Being and J for Justice. The Kindergarteners took turns reading the narrative that correlated with each letter. “Men, women, children like you, however you identify in terms of gender, we’re all human beings,” Ms. Cimillo emphasized. “Everyone should be treated fairly, right?”

With these significant terms in their brains, the students were eager and ready to learn about a new advocate: Malala Yousafzai.

To tell her story, Ms. Cimillo read “Malala’s Magic Pencil,” written by Malala herself. The story follows Malala as a young girl and how she discovers that in her country Pakistan, girls can’t always go to school as it is considered a luxury.

“That’s injustice!” piped up one student, to which Ms. Cimillo enthusiastically agreed.

Malala writes that if she had a magic pencil, she would draw a better world without poverty, war and hunger. “Now, let’s think about our letters from earlier,” Ms. Cimillo encouraged. “Aren’t girls human beings?” The class gave a roaring “Yes!” saying that all people should be treated equally and deserve an education.

The story continued to detail how Malala began writing about what was happening in her world. Her words gained so much traction that she ended up on the news, online and in International papers. The Malala Fund was ultimately born and, eventually, opened schools for girls and Syrian refugees in Pakistan, Lebanon and Jordan. Malala even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, making her the youngest person to ever be awarded this distinct honor.

The book concluded with the inspiring line: “One child, one teacher, one pen can change the world.

Now, it was time for the motivated Kindergarteners to become advocates. They grabbed their iPads to complete the sentence “I can use my voice to…”

The scholars got straight to work, using Seesaw to draw pictures of their wishes and record their voices to complete their thoughts. Ms. Cimillo circled the room, ready to help if needed. “Think about the world around you,” she said. “And what matters to you.”

Students fervently shared many thoughtful answers. One inspired student, in particular, described a letter she wrote to President Biden about the hunger crisis, stressing that people can’t always access food, which isn’t fair. She asked that free food be offered to those who can’t afford it.

If this lesson was any indication, Chapin’s youngest learners are full of ideas to make the world a better place.