November 15, 2016

Empathy Lessons from Three High School Sophomores

It’s American Education Week, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate excellence in education than to highlight the work of some incredible high schoolers in Marysville, Ohio. Supported by teachers, staff, and their peers, these girls are pursuing a passion project that crosses district, state, and national lines.

The Hopeful Heart Project is the brain child of three sophomores at Marysville Early College High School: Kayla O’Shelski, Michaela Stauffer, and Jazmine Williams. During a sleepover, the girls considered how the habits of mind emphasized at their school – flexibility, out of the box thinking, resiliency, collaboration and communication, and self-sufficiency – lacked something that the girls felt was essential: empathy. They talked about where they could make an impact and how they could involve everyone at their school. Leveraging Michaela’s family connections with Water for Life Haiti, the group decided to raise money for school supplies for the Divine Help School in Pasbwadòm, Haiti, and called their work The Hopeful Heart Project.

“My great-grandfather, Willis Miller, founded Water for Life,” Michaela adds. “I wanted to continue that legacy to make him proud. We wanted to make a change in the lives of people who are less fortunate.”

“As teenagers, we focus a lot on ourselves and our friends. We need to be more empathetic,” continues Jazmine, who explains that while the initial fundraisers went toward school supplies for the Divine Help School, funds were diverted after Hurricane Matthew to help pay for a new roof when the school’s existing roof was blown off during the storm.

The girls have been approached by other students asking for ways to help, volunteering ideas for new fundraisers in addition to contributing to existing fundraisers. They do Penny Wars at the high school, and have taken advantage of community festivals to incentivize giving. Recently, they gave a presentation before a group of district and community leaders about the importance of their project, and their plans for the future, which include soliciting donations from local businesses to help fill backpacks for students at the Divine Help School.

“We want to bring The Hopeful Heart Project into all Marysville schools next year, and into the community,” says Kayla. “The principals and staff are really willing to help, and we’re hoping to pass this on to other students when we graduate. As long as the school is here, we want this project to continue.”

While the girls rightly want to expand their school’s habits of mind to include empathy, it is those very principles that have allowed for a small group of sophomores not only to feel like they could pursue something on their own, but also to elicit the support of their teachers and administrators in a student-directed initiative. Students at Marysville Early College High School are empowered to seek out independent learning and service opportunities, and to think critically about their impact not only on the Marysville community, but the world.

“If you’re passionate about something, do something,” says Jazmine, a sentiment the girls share, and one that’s sincerely honored by their school culture.

The Hopeful Heart Project

Interested in learning more about The Hopeful Heart Project?

You can visit them on Facebook, follow them on Instagram or Twitter, or contact them directly if you’re interested in supporting their cause.

Jillian Kuhlmann

Written by: Jillian Kuhlmann

Jillian Kuhlmann is the Communications Specialist for KnowledgeWorks.

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