Many middle school language arts classes follow a pattern: Read a book, write an essay, rinse and repeat.
But this year, Dumbarton Middle School language arts teacher Justin DePrima’s eighth-grade classes broke the mold, raising thousands of dollars to support girls’ education through the Washington-based nonprofit Malala Fund for a class project.
“We’ve done something and we’re still so young,” said Lily Harrison, 14. “It shows we can make a difference.”
As of Nov. 29, the 62 eighth-graders in DePrima’s classes had raised a total of more than $3,400 – more than halfway to their goal of raising $6,200 by Dec. 31.
DePrima said his two Gifted and Talented language arts classes started the school year reading the book “I Am Malala” by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. The book tells Yousafzai’s story of standing up for girls’ education after the Taliban tried to assassinate her at age 15.
When the class finished the book, DePrima, who has been teaching at Dumbarton Middle for 13 years, said he asked students what kind of project they wanted to do.
“One student said: let’s do something to support [Malala]. I said, ‘That’s a great idea,’” DePrima said. Minutes later the entire class was on board, brainstorming ways to raise money for the Malala Fund, a nonprofit which runs girls education programs around the world.
“We have the right to go to school, even though we often take it for granted,” said Miriam Barker, 13. “It’s a privilege many don’t have.”
Students in DePrima’s classes said they were inspired by Yousafzai’s story and floored by the realization that school is out of reach for girls around the world.
“I was just oblivious to that,” said Gabe Foster, 14.
“Just by [Yousafzai] wanting to get an education, she got shot,” said Anna Keefer, 13.
Hailey Sysantos, 13, added: “She didn’t let the Taliban stop her.
“They made the connection: this is not that different from what Malala’s doing,” DePrima said. “It only takes two people to start an initiative. It takes one to have an aspiration, and another to say ‘let’s do it.’”
DePrima said the two classes split into groups and began working to raise money while learning about the art of persuasion through language.
Anna, Hailey and Sophia Brown, 13, explained Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion, which students used in messaging and advertising for the effort: ethos, or credibility; logos, or reasoning; and pathos, or emotion.
Some students designed fliers to post around the school directing people to donate on their class webpage. Some made a video to play on the school’s morning announcements while others hosted a bake sale. Some composed emails to large corporations, to other Baltimore County schools and to their family members asking for donations. One group sent a pitch to the Towson Times.
“It’s very interactive,” said Noah Webb, 13. “We get to go online where everybody is on right now.”
And unlike many school projects based on hypotheticals, “it’s real,” Annika Vanlandingham, 13, said.
The students launched the fundraising effort during class, but have now moved on to a new unit: reading the Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” But the fundraising effort is not over. Until the end of 2018, DePrima’s students will be working outside of class to reach their goal.
“I’ve been encouraging them not to forget about it,” DePrima said.
Gabe, for instance, said he is considering making chocolate pretzels with sprinkles and selling them to raise money. Lily said she is composing an email to her father’s side of the family asking for donations.
DePrima said he is proud of his students, who have been learning about teamwork, rhetoric and persuasion as they work to achieve their goal.
“They’re going to keep me on my toes for the rest of the year, for sure,” DePrima said.
To donate, visit https://give.classy.org/educationfirst.