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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Hungry for Solutions: Can the Youth Fix the Future?

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate

On a recent late summer morning in Portland, Oregon, I walked past the downtown farmers' market, where vendors were setting up their lush displays of fruits and vegetables. Food was on my mind, but for a different reason. I was on my way to a forum for young people about how they could help fight world hunger.

The Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian organization headquartered in Oregon, hosted the Portland Youth Summit as part of its Global Citizens Corps. According to Erin Thomas, who served with the Peace Corps before working with Mercy Corps, the organization is increasingly looking to young people to help find solutions for global problems such as hunger. "We need your ideas to solve these problems," she told the audience of teens and young adults. "You are inheriting these challenges. Will you be ready to move forward as global citizens?"

As the panel of experts explained to a full auditorium, hunger is a multifaceted problem with no easy fixes. They told the story with stark statistics (one death from hunger every 3.6 seconds), photographs (showing parched fields and stunted crops), maps, graphs, and impassioned rhetoric ("Hunger steals the future").

I couldn't help but think that teachers who bring a topic such as hunger into the classroom create the perfect setup for interdisciplinary learning. Getting students to think hard about the causes of hunger -- and potential solutions -- will address a range of content areas, from math to social studies to language arts to health. It's also an opportunity to connect global learning with local action.

If teachers integrate service learning into the lesson, students may wind up leading community-action teams, using digital tools for public-awareness campaigns, or applying language arts to advocacy efforts. If students probe the problem of hunger from many angles, they will learn far more than they would by doing a more traditional food drive.

Resources for tackling world hunger as a classroom topic are plentiful. Many educators use Oxfam America's Hunger Banquet as a powerful simulation activity to introduce the subject. Feeding Minds Fighting Hunger -- a global education initiative -- includes classroom materials appropriate for elementary school, middle school, and high school. (You can also check out the related Edutopia video about Heifer International, A Night in the Global Village: Role-Playing Life in Poverty.)

The Global Citizen Corps Web site is another resource worth exploring. It not only includes information about hunger and other hot topics but also offers opportunities for students to get involved. Appropriate for teens, the site has forums where students can voice their ideas and find resources for planning community-action or advocacy projects. It's also a place where students can pose questions to those working on solutions. As the Mercy Corps's Erin Thomas explained, "You can get information directly from humanitarian-aid workers. If you have questions about what's going on in a specific location, you can ask people working in the field about it."

Of course, hunger is not a problem that only happens far from home. According to an advocacy organization called Bread for the World, one in ten households in the United States faces a food shortage. That means students can find experts to interview right in their own backyards -- at the local food bank, soup kitchen, or other agency trying to fill the hunger gap.

Here are some more resources for planning integrated studies about hunger:

  • The Empty Bowls Project: Nearly twenty years ago, a Michigan art teacher had a novel idea for a student service project -- students made ceramic bowls to support a food drive. They served guests soup and bread, and then invited them to keep the bowls as a reminder of hunger in the world. The Empty Bowls Project has grown to involve schools across the United States in creatively supporting local food banks, soup kitchens, and other organizations that feed the hungry.
  • World Food Day USA: A variety of educational organizations, including the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, sponsor World Food Day USA, which is scheduled this year for October 16. The Web site includes resources, project ideas, and links to local events.
  • Kids Can Make a Difference: Geared to secondary school students, this program offers a curriculum that encourages kids to look at the root causes of hunger and then plan follow-up actions of their own.

Have you ever explored hunger as an interdisciplinary topic? What were the outcomes? How did students respond? Please tell us about your experiences.

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
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Comments (13)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Suzie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Jacyln,
You make an excellent point. Local service projects offer a way to engage students to act on this problem in their own community. Many of the resources included here will help you do just that--in the context of addressing a global issue.

LeeAnn Carr's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have always believed that we should teach our children to get involved and to help others. I think it is vital to our society that we train our children to take action, work toward a common goal and find a way to end hunger issues in our country and in other countries. We must learn to provide for those in our own neighborhood....teaching our youth to grow food as part of our curriculum and giving that food to food pantries to help those in need is something that could be beneficial to many.

Jessica Miller's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have taught civics in Washington, DC for the last four years and at the end of each year, my seventh grade students select an issue facing their community (defined, for the sake of this project, as the city of DC) and then conduct research on ways to address that issue through policy as well as through service. This is a modified version of the Project Citizen competition done by the Center for Civic Education and something worth looking in to.

The dual approach of service and policy planning allows the students to apply what we've learned about government and politics to their lives and learn how to take action in a more institutionalized way, in addition to making a difference through service. I like this approach because it exposes my students to the idea that they can communicate with officials and the media and that their ideas and opinions matter. To me, this is just as important as students learning the value of lending a hand in their communities.

Charlotte's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Yes, We really need to teach our children to help each other. Last year the students at my school had a garden. (Rows for the hungry). The student s loved the giving.

Cheryl's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

While reading this blog, I couldn't help but be reminded of my district's mission statement. One goal we have is to mold our students into life long learners and encourage them to be active members of the community. This blog encourages me to take action now and guide my 5th grade students to become involved in the community.
With global warming a major environmental concern and poverty knocking on the back door of many people in our community, they possiblities for my students to take a stand and make a difference are endless. This blog truly opened my eyes to the many ways my students can learn and grow beyond the textbook. Thank you for inspiring me!

Cheryl's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

While reading this blog, I couldn't help but be reminded of my district's mission statement. One goal we have is to mold our students into life long learners and encourage them to be active members of the community. This blog encourages me to take action now and guide my 5th grade students to become involved in the community.
With global warming a major environmental concern and poverty knocking on the back door of many people in our community, they possiblities for my students to take a stand and make a difference are endless. This blog truly opened my eyes to the many ways my students can learn and grow beyond the textbook. Thank you for inspiring me!

Althea M. Williams's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Life long learning
I thoroughly believe that we should expose students to global issues that require them to problem solve in order to find solutions to the issues. My school, too, requires that students complete community service hours. As students use problem solving strategies to find solutions to various issues, they are also developing civic skills that could last a life time. And, by students participating in community service projects that address global/local issues, they may in turn become informed civic-minded individuals for life. In other words, students take charge of their learning as they connect to global/local issues which are relevant to them (Kottler, Zehm, & Kottler, 2005). When allowed to choose certain global/local issues to address, students are more likely to buy into the community service project and work to find solutions.

Allyson Coco's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am so comforted by these posts from teachers. It is reassuring to know that important issues like world hunger are being addressed in the schools. I have found that when children are offered the opportunity to help they rise up to the task. Locally we help homeless shelters and last year we made scarves for a group of men in Philadelphia. One of my students asked if he could have one of the scarves for a man his dad knew. I was touched by this first graders compassion for an adult and gladly gave him one of the scarves. If we think about that the ultimate goal of education is to teach our children to become responsible,and productive members of society infusing community work and global aid is a vital part of their education. Kudos to all who inspire our children to become compassionate citizens.

Bryan Ropp's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe that having the students become more active instead of passive in the classroom is an awesome idea. The only trouble that I would find is implementing an activity that will be short enough that will allow us to reach all the standards and indicators that we have to meet according to the state. Making the kids active in what they are learning is an awesome idea, hopefully this can become more common in classrooms. Although I believe the reason why we don't see so much of this is that it is hard to fit into a semester class. I think that teachers would need to prioritize efficiently and effectively in order to bring some realism in their classroom to create the mindset in our students to be active and be willing to change things in this world.

Larry Levine's picture
Larry Levine
Co-Founder Kids Can Make A Difference (KIDS)

I could not agree with you more. KIDS appreciates being mentioned as a resource for this important discussion. Our program helps students make the important connection between the root causes of hunger and the need for their involvement. I invite you to visit our website at www.kidscanmakeadifference.org and learn more about KIDS. While there, please subscribe to our quarterly newsletter, Finding Solutions, that goes to 10,000+ subscribers. You might be interested in seeing what Teaching Tolerance said about KIDS and our teacher guide. Whatever you do, please use us as a resource.

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