When the Students Become the Teachers: Student-Led Ed

by | Oct 8, 2021 | Heartivist Of The Week

In the summer of 2020, Kerry Dolan, an assistant principal at a Chicago high school, received a letter addressed to the entire body of predominantly white teachers and administrators. Signed by over 100 mostly BIPOC students, the letter described their feelings of hurt and abandonment when their teachers did not mention or address what was so evident everywhere else in their lives: pain and outrage over the murder of George Floyd. The students wanted something simple: love, support, and affirmation. When they were met with silence, they decided to be the ones to start the conversation. Why, when this was such a powerful learning moment in American history, wasn’t the school speaking to it? 

A committed educator who loves her students dearly, Kerry was moved. She understood their pain and disappointment, and realized that “we needed to find a venue to give students the space to share their feelings, to share their thoughts, to share their experiences in a way that allowed staff to hear them and really not just listen to them, but hear them.” 

After meeting with Kerry and others, the students asked to lead a teach-in about antiracism and their experiences for the school staff. Said Ariana Hinton, one of the participating students, “This is one of those moments where the roles had to reverse in order for us to get somewhere, and I was fine with that.” 

The session they facilitated featured a powerful poem by a student, debunking of racist stereotypes, and specific calls to action for ways in which the school could more actively support students of color. The reviews were 100% positive. 

One attending teacher wrote in her evaluation: “Wow. Powerful. Contagious. Thoughtful. Motivated. Genuine. Uncomfortable. Proud. Optimistic. Cautious. Ready. Just some random thoughts on this great student-led presentation. Thank you. I am touched by your actions and words.”

While reading through the feedback the sessions had garnered, Kerry realized that there weren’t existing organizations whose sole mission was to provide student-led professional development, despite many schools and school districts identifying student voice and agency as high priorities, and educator after educator touting the value of student-directed professional learning. And, Student-Led Ed was born. 

“Teachers and schools talk a lot about the importance of student voice, and yet most of the voices leading professional development and school improvement are those of white men, and rarely include students, let alone BIPOC students,” Kerry said. “We are looking to change the narrative of whose voices are worthy and valued in the multi-billion dollar educational professional development industry by providing digital, sliding scale, student-created and facilitated professional learning opportunities for schools, school districts, and organizations to catalyze positive change in school cultures through the voices of the largest constituency at every school: students.”

The Pollination Project supported Student-Led Ed in developing their online presence through a new website and social media engagement so that they are able to continue their mission to center student voices and improve school culture. Kerry and the students were so excited to receive this support, sharing that “We are incredibly grateful to you for being the first organization to take a chance on us and believe in us. Thank you so so much!”

Since that time, Student-Led Ed received another grant from the National Geographic’s COVID-19 Educator Relief Fund that enabled them to spend the summer creating public-facing webinars for educators and youth which are now available on YouTube. They also submitted a proposal and were accepted to present a student panel at this year’s National Council for Teachers of English Conference to help engage more educators in championing their mission.

“Too often, students’ voices are overlooked as the powerful catalyst for change they are. We tend to believe that adults have the answers, when so much of recent progress in our country can be attributed to our youth,” Kerry said. “They have a lot to teach us.”


It's Volunteer Month! 🌟 🌟 🌟 Today we celebrate our grant advisors working on Economic Development focus area.

By meticulously selecting projects for our seed grants, they're not just funding ideas—they're empowering communities and sparking transformative change. 

Join us in celebrating their invaluable efforts and the positive impact they're creating together!

🔸 Eric Anorrey (Ghana)
🔸 Mariam Nakiryowa (Uganda)
🔸 Jean-Marie Zihalirwa (DRC)
🔸 Emily Logiron Asekon (Kenya)
🔸 Georgia Bernbaum (USA) 
🔸 Herve Tsoala Kuete (Cameroon)
🔸 Jackson Bizimungu (Rwanda)
🔸 Okumu Dickson (Uganda)
🔸 Samuel Litunya (Kenya)


#volunteermonth #volunteer #heartivism #economicdevelopment #change #empoweringcommunities
The Green Earth Initiative (#Cameroon) is a project dedicated to educating and empowering students about climate change, sustainable development, and environmental challenges, that has received a seed grant from The Pollination Project in 2023. With a focus on fostering environmental protection and conservation, the initiative establishes Eco-clubs and Environment Clubs in schools, providing students with the tools to learn, engage, and take action in their communities.

Since receiving the grant from TPP, the Green Earth Initiative has expanded its reach, now encompassing 9 additional schools across two regions/cities, surpassing its initial goal of 5. 
This expansion was made possible by the overwhelming interest from school authorities and the growing number of volunteers and team members.

Through the support of TPP and other partners, the project's environmental education programs, awareness campaigns, and initiatives have impacted over 8000 students in two cities of Cameroon. Additionally, the initiative has planted over 600 trees, launched 5 Environment/Eco Clubs, and distributed over 150 adapted waste bins produced from recycled plastics, contributing to proper waste management practices.

The seed grant from The Pollination Project has been instrumental in catalyzing the growth and success of the Green Earth Initiative, enabling it to make a tangible difference in the lives of students and communities, while fostering a culture of environmental stewardship and sustainability. 

#environmentprotection #seedgrant #heartivism #environmentaleducation
It's Volunteer's Month!!! 🌟 Celebrating our family of Grant Advisors 🌟

With 80 grant advisors, all experts in their respective fields and many of them former grantees, The Pollination Project is powered by a wealth of knowledge and experience. Their service is not only precious but also essential, as they bring unique insights and understanding to the application process, ensuring that resources are allocated where they can have the greatest impact. 

🎉 Today we celebrate our incredible grant advisors in the HEALTH & WHOLENESS focus area! 

🔸 Ben Kilama (Uganda) 
🔸 Kosa Jimmy (Uganda) 
🔸 Marina Haque (USA) 
🔸 John Ebong (Nigeria) 
🔸 Nzayisenga Emmanuel (Canada)
🔸 Rodger Mwanza (Zambia) 
🔸 Emmanuel Dushimimana (Rwanda) 
🔸 Nelly Hellen Onditi (Kenya) 
🔸 Daniel Ayodele Femi (Nigeria) 
🔸 Christopher Nwafor (South Africa)

Our heartfelt gratitude to these dedicated individuals for their invaluable contributions 🙏

@jim.kosa.5 @manud05 @duemmanuel @nelly.hellen1 @daniel_ayodele_femi 

#health #wholeness #grantmaking #grantadvisor #volunteermonth #volunteers #grants #heartivism #volunteersweek #nigeria #southafrica #uganda #rwanda #zambia #canada