Actor Andrew Shue and Do Something, the organization he co-founded, have a message for young people: "You have the power to change the world." With the help of involved teachers and administrators, Do Something participants are making a difference! Should your students be "doing something" too?
"Do Something is based on the idea that life is most rewarding when helping others," actor Andrew Shue, the organization's co-founder, told Education World. "There are do something people and there are do nothing people. We want to make sure young people know the difference.
"Our vision is to create a generation of young people with the inspiration, self-confidence, and leadership skills to be active citizens for a lifetime," Shue said. "I believe that a great education means creating good citizens as well as great scholars."
Toward this end, Shue and his childhood friend Michael Sanchez designed Do Something in 1993 to support community initiatives created and implemented by young people. Each year, the program involves more than 15,000 educators in 11,000 schools. Young people work with caring educators called "community coaches" to find issues that are important to them and to devise community projects to address those problems. Then the students put their plans into action!
"As a high school student, I started a group called Students Serving Seniors, which matched students with senior citizens," Shue continued, "and my teacher told me I was a good person. His encouragement seems simple, but those few words literally changed how I saw myself. It got me thinking about who I was inside."
"The most profound moment was when I walked into my first class," he recalled. "Thirty students were looking at me. The principal walked in and said, 'This is your math teacher, Mr. Shue.' Everybody stood up, and they all had these big smiles on their faces. They stood at attention and started clapping."
This was Shue's first teaching experience, and the eager students surprised him. There was a shortage of teachers in Zimbabwe, and the students had been without a math teacher for six months. They were so excited to learn math!
"The biggest lesson from Africa was that life's joys come mostly from relationships and friendships, not from material things," Shue stated. "It's been a great lesson for me, one that I hope to pass on to kids."
All of those service experiences helped shape Shue as a person, something he also wants to share.
"The most important factor is that there is a caring adult to support the students when they need help," said Shue. "So our program creates youth-adult partnerships to make things happen. The feeling inside when you help another person is transforming. Involving young people in small activities that get them hooked can lead to a lifetime of involvement."
Do Something recently conducted a nationwide poll of teens asking about their top social concerns. The teens mentioned many issues that affect their lives every day -- drunken driving, teen suicide and depression, violence in schools, discrimination, and education. In the wake of the attacks of September 11, Shue believes they would add safety or terrorism to the list.
"The idea of asking young people what they think is a really big deal," observed Shue. "Just listening to them is very powerful. Do Something is all about asking young people what they want to do to make things better and then giving them the support they need to turn their ideas into action."
Cameron, a 13-year-old from Waupun, Wisconsin, brought the Do Something program to his middle school. "Do Something appealed to me because I liked the idea of learning while helping other people," said Cameron. "Although my parents' influence helped me get involved, I decided on my own that I would participate, because I thought it was a good use of my time."
Through Do Something, Cameron has been involved in two major projects, focused primarily on issues of safety. In one project, he and other students persuaded the city council and commissioner of railroads to install permanent signs, clear trees and brush, and offer better police patrol around an unsafe railroad crossing. Cameron's second project, working with the Department of Natural Resources to build a walking/biking path along the route to a local pool, is ongoing.
"By participating in these projects, I have learned many skills, such as leadership, public speaking, and responsibility, that can't be learned in a regular classroom," said Cameron. "I have also learned a lot of other skills that you usually do learn in the classroom, like calculating money and distances, writing letters and speeches, and managing my time. The skills I've learned are more important than some of my other studies because they're things I need to use in the real world.
"I encourage other kids to get involved in Do Something," Cameron added, "because it is one of the few win-win educational opportunities offered to kids today. There are so many different ways you can benefit from service learning, from increasing self-esteem and making friends, to just plain helping people. The best part is it's fun!"
"September 11 made our efforts to engage young people as active citizens more important than ever," explained Shue. "Now is the time that young people need to get informed, speak out, and take action about the things that are most important to them. This is an extraordinary moment in American history, an opportunity to inspire a new generation to get involved in the process and shape the world around them."
By organizing and supporting Do Something programs within schools, teachers provide a much-needed link between the classroom and community and show students authentic applications for what they have learned.
Shue suggests that the greatest legacy an educator can leave is to give young people a sense of their own power. He said, "Do Something shows young people that they can change themselves, they can change their community, and they can change the world for the better."
The truth of that is reflected in Cameron's words. "Do Something is an easy and fun way to help your community and get students' minds going. With the right attitude, kids can change the world with their own ideas."
Article by Cara Bafile
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