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Educator’s View: Charity Election Engaged My Students — & Helped Feed 528 People

Roeder: The charity election drove home how much we, as educators, have the power to do, and that it does not have to start and end in the classroom

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As with many teachers, I decided to pursue this career because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of my students and the world at large. My first professional foray had been in finance, but I figured I would be a happier person being part of society’s solutions. A big change was in order.

Recently, though, I reached beyond the classroom back to my previous life to help my students run a charity election at our school, funded by a grant through the nonprofit Giving What We Can.

Through the election, students voted to direct up to $2,000 in grant-provided funds to their choice of three charities. It was in some ways an exercise in investing. Students first researched the three charities on the ballot, discussed the evidence about the pros and cons of each, and then voted on which charity should receive the money. Student leaders handled the day-to-day processes of the election, taking on key roles and organizational responsibilities to make the project a reality.

Over 80% of the student body voted in the charity election, a significant participation rate that can be explained through a unique component of the school. Winston Prep serves students with learning differences, and one component is a Focus Program that provides daily 1-on-1 support. Focus instructors have the flexibility to dedicate their entire attention to each individual student, and students are thereby empowered to home in on the areas in which they need the most support.

Through the Focus program, each student had the opportunity to engage in a conversation with a passionate adult about the pluses and minuses of the three nominated charities. Then, they cast their ballots, with each vote contributing $2 out of the grant provided specifically for the election. In total, the students gathered $374 that was available for donation.

After the vote, we continued the student engagement through a post-election survey, and there were some amazing responses that made clear just how deeply they were able to engage with all aspects of the charity election experience. When it came to effective giving, one student noted, the charity election “made me realize that it is important not only to donate money, but to donate money to organizations who are really doing a good job.” 

Another student said, “The charity election impacted me in a positive way, it [made] me think about doing [good] for others because I care about other people and want to give back.”

As much as the charity election was an amazing opportunity for students, I was also floored by how much collective impact the school was able to make. Though not a large amount, the funds donated to the winning charity, Project Healthy Children, were enough to provide 528 people with food-based micronutrient fortification, such as vitamins and minerals, for an entire year. The second- and third-place grantees were The Humane League, which aims to end the abuse of animals raised for food, and The GiveWell Maximum Impact Fund, which employs a research team to study the most effective charities and then deploys the fund’s holdings to those causes.

The charity election drove home how much we, as educators, have the power to do, and that it does not have to start and end in the classroom. I happened to read about the charity election grant one morning while having an extra cup of coffee, and I will continue seeking out opportunities like this going forward.

“It makes me feel like I’m helping people and like I’m doing something to change the world even if it’s small,” said one of my students. I could not agree more.

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