Walk the hallways of Momentous School and you’ll stumble upon these large displays done by second grade students. If you stop to take a closer look, you’ll find the changemakers highlighted are all Hispanic. We sat down with Momentous School second grade teacher Brenda Ortega to shed a little light on this project.

What was the inspiration for this project?

We did this project near the start of the year as part of Hispanic Heritage Month which is celebrated from September 15 to October 15. What I like about doing it that early in the year is that it sets the stage for celebrating other important months, like Black History Month and Women’s Month.

I wanted to do a project that celebrates Hispanic changemakers, people who have made the world a better place. This early in the school year, the students haven’t necessarily learned about changemakers, so we have to start the conversation there and then build upon it.

What’s the premise behind this project?

The idea for this project is that students learn about different types of changemakers and then learn about the journey these changemakers went through in their lives. It’s important for students to know that people don’t just wake up and become a changemaker. That all these people – no matter if they’re athletes, scientists, activists or artists – they had obstacles and opportunities that led to their ability to be changemakers.

Tell us a bit about the components of the project.

There are basically six parts of each student’s display. They include:

1. ____ is a changemaker because… (students write what the changemaker is most known for and why that makes them a changemaker)

2. I can be like _____ because… (students draw and write two ways)

3. ____ teaches me the lesson of (students write a response)

4. Winning words that _____ probably said to themselves to push through those obstacles and help them persevere are reach their goals were… (students fill in three speech bubbles)

5. _____ is a changemaker because they did these three things to persevere and reach their goals (students draw three pictures)

6. ____ shows perseverance, optimism and grit (students fill in “bumps in the road” or obstacles the person faced as they reached their goals)

How did you teach the lessons for this project?

We started with a lesson from our social emotional curriculum, Changemakers. This is a lesson from the unit on Hope, called “From Goal to Great.”

Editor’s Note: View the second grade Changemakers lesson here. To learn more about Changemakers, click here.

In the lesson, students learn about goal setting by reading the story of Sonia Sotomayor and her journey to becoming a judge. Students talk about the “boulders” or obstacles, that she encountered. Using this lesson as a model, we made graphic organizers for Sonia Sotomayor as an example.

Next, I looked through my classroom library and consulted with the school librarian to get a large selection of biographies on Hispanic changemakers. I grouped them by type – athletes, artists, activists, etc. and let students choose. Each student took a book home, and their homework was to read the book together with their family.

I really wanted this to be a family project because it was at the start of the school year, and coming out of Covid, where families were so involved in school, it’s important to find ways to include the families in the children’s learning. So, I assigned homework that was meant for the whole family to participate.

We started with the sheet on perseverance, optimism and grit. These are words the students and their families were already familiar with and the answers to these questions were right in the text.

The “winning words” sheet was harder for students. It often didn’t tell them explicitly in the book what words they used to motivate themselves, so it required a level of inference that was harder for second graders. I handled this by working individually with students to help them guess what words they might have used. This step also teaches students the value of positive self-talk and having optimism. They can remember this as they take their beginning of year baseline assessments, like the MAP test, and then we build on winning words throughout the year when something feels challenging!

On the page that reads, “____ is a changemaker because…”, I also had to work individually with most students. For many of them, the first draft just said what the person did. For example, “Selena is a changemaker because she was a singer.” I encouraged students to dig deeper, and ultimately their responses were more along the lines of, “Selena is a changemaker because most Tejano singers were men and she never gave up.” For some students, it required us to re-read the book or even refer to other books or websites to learn more about the person.

What was the end result? Were you and the students proud of the work?

I actually went on maternity leave around the time we finished the first draft of everything, which worked really well for the timing, because we had a little break and got to look at the work with fresh eyes when I returned. When I got back, we took the projects back out and students made revisions. For some students, they were happy with the work they had done, and others wanted a chance to make a new version of one or more of the worksheets. Then we glued everything together and I took pictures of the students holding the book on their person. We hung them in the hallway where they stayed for the rest of the school year.

We were so proud of the projects. The students learned a lot about different Hispanic changemakers, but I think more importantly than doing just a simple biography project, they learned about what makes a changemaker. It led to great discussions throughout the year about how we can be changemakers, not just when we grow up, but even in second grade!

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