Heineman Middle School has for the past several years hosted an Apprentice-style interdisciplinary project, in which 8th-grade students teamed up to research, present on, and support good causes. After presenting to a panel, the winning group received proceeds from fundraisers to donate to their nonprofit organization of choice.
This year, said literacy teacher Deidra Cravens, teachers decided to let students drive the direction of their projects, empowering them to select not only the nonprofit organization they wanted to support, but also to design their own projects, plans, methods, and goals.
The result?
Teams raised more than $4,600 in cash, plus a number of in-kind and material donations, for a variety of good causes.
“We totally handed it over to students this year, and they formed groups to help organizations based on their interests,” Cravens said.
The groups were then responsible for reaching out to and researching organizations to learn not only what they did, but what they needed in terms of support. After setting their own goals, groups decided how to best reach them, from setting up online fundraisers to going door-to-door spreading awareness to volunteering on site to creating and shipping care packages.
This approach not only helped students grow in skills such as communication, collaboration, listening, and public speaking, but also engaged students by demonstrating to them their power to make a positive impact on the world.
“Their presentations were very collaborative. Everyone was involved and excited to share,” said literacy teacher Courtney Fulton.

Supporting Down Syndrome Centers

Gigi's GroupThe team of Erica Bilderback, Cami Garifo, Molly Quinlan, and Maya Hudgens chose to raise money for GiGi’s Playhouse, a network of Down Syndrome achievement centers with locations in the area. Each student said she had a personal connection to Down Syndrome through family or friends.
“The hardest part was doing it on your own,” Hudgens said. “Everything we did, we had to ask, ‘is this going to affect people’s lives?'”
“It made an impact on us too. We’re not going to stop with the project. We’re going to continue with it. It made us really happy,” Bilderback said.
The team’s efforts ultimately resulted in $1,000 raised for GiGi’s Playhouse.

National MS Society

MS Group
The group of Haley Sawyer, Dominic Calabrese, and Kelsey Nixon were inspired to support the National Multiple Sclerosis Society after talking with a relative of Nixon’s, who suffers from MS.
Their online fundraiser netted $250, bolstered by a video they created telling his story. They said the project not only deepened their understanding of the disease, but also how to advocate for a cause.
“It was cool to share his story with the class,” Sawyer said.
Calabrese said he was surprised by how much he enjoyed calling individuals and connecting with local businesses to gain support.
“It felt like we were actually doing something that made a difference,” he said.

Alzheimer’s Association

Alzheimer's GroupAl Trch and Sean McCamant formed a team of two around the cause of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Trch said their strategy to blend statistics and personal stories in their video and presentation helped them raise $530 for the Alzheimer’s Association.
“A lot of people take it for granted, but most people don’t realize how bad it is,” McCamant said.
“You may not think it, but just one or two people can make a difference, and I can prove that with the money we raised,” Trch said.

Caring for Pediatric Cancer Patients

Bear Necessities Group
Rebekah Michael, Allie Garlin, and Leena Wassim decided to help create care packages through the pediatric cancer care organization Bear Necessities because each had a personal connection to the disease.
“We thought about what you could do that would make a tangible impact,” Michael said.
The care packages they created, to be sent to children in the hospital, included toys, blankets, treats, books, and other things to help make patients’ experiences a little better.
Each said she discovered how she could bring her own set of skills to the project. Michael said she enjoyed researching and learning about the cause, Garlin enjoyed connecting personally with others, and Wassim enjoyed the task of physically compiling the care packages.
“There are so many things you could do to help others,” Wassim said. “You just have to think about what will make a difference to people.”

Other groups supported a variety of organizations. Cravens said she and her fellow teachers were blown away by the way students took the torch and ran with it for their causes.
“The whole idea is to stand and and be heard. We don’t want this project to end — we want them to take it with them and revisit it in the future. We want this to become part of who they are and what they believe in,” Cravens said. “This was the best example of showing what students are capable of when you hand it off to them.”