Wow! Ed: Newsletter from the Center for Educational Improvment
Making the World A Better Place: Philanthropy & Humanitarian Aid
January 2017
In This Issue

Implementing CEI Food Insecurity Lessons

In Raleigh, NC 

In Cumberland, TN 

More Opportunities: CEI Food Insecurity Stipends

CEI Can Bring STEAM Lessons to You!

Here is what we offer in DC

Contributions requested for 5C Booklet Series

Contributions of $1, $2-5, $10, $25 and more are welcome

Dear Educators,

When we consider the state of the world and wonder what 50.4 million students in the US might do to improve it, our list often begins with entrepreneurial and scientific discoveries. Certainly preparing students to understand, use, and master technology is important. However, life is more than fast cars, computers, jumbo jets, and iPhones. The human side of the equation is equally important. What can teachers and administrators do to help further student skills in these areas?  

These past few months, CEI has been urging our middle school educators to get involved in helping students understand solutions to hunger and food insecurity. In this issue of Wow ! we provide more fuel for this fire. Read on to consider some examples of helping students learn about philanthropy, humanitarian aid,  and service learning.
Engaging Students in Philanthropy
By Grace Rubenstein, CEI Intern
It is commonly said that children are the future, and the future needs generosity more than ever. Teaching children the satisfaction of charitable giving can have both long-term effects in increasing their philanthropic tendencies as adults, as well as short-term effects of enhancing their awareness of global issues. When beginning to harness children's interest in philanthropy, it helps to tap into a child's empathy towards a specific situation. 

Empathy: Developmental Milestones

As shown in psychological research, empathy takes several years to consolidate in a child's repertoire, and it stems from learning how to simulate another person's mental state. By understanding that the so-called "other" is capable of feeling as full a range of emotion and thought as the "self," children learn to feel empathy towards strangers. Referred to as "social cognition" in the psychological field, the ability to view the world through another person's perspective is not present from birth (Astington & Edward, 2010). In children under approximately five years, research has identified a diminished ability to stand in another's shoes. Rather, those children only can manage the singular perspective from their own eyes, and they think that everyone else shares the same mental state. The concept that they have yet to master, labelled as the Theory of Mind, is that other people have their own thoughts, emotions, and desires (Lowry). Only after building the skills that allow them to grasp the Theory of Mind will social cognition be possible. Since social cognition builds from a base of internal cognition, it is first nature for people to try to understand a foreign perspective by picturing themselves having to undergo another person's suffering. Thus, to increase a child's empathy towards another's plight, adults may encourage children to imagine how it would feel to be homeless, for example, or to not have access to education.

Evoking Memories

A 2013 research study with 19-year old subjects demonstrated that the effectiveness of social cognition discussions extends past early childhood. The study found that directly talking with students about philanthropy will more effectively motivate their involvement than just modelling charitable behavior in front of them. Furthermore, rather than expecting them to be moved to action when vaguely told that charity is the "right thing to do," children, adolescents, and young adults often respond better to explanations that evoke memories of real sensations. For example, consider a discussion about how monetary contributions can provide food for people who are struggling with constant hunger. Fitting this lesson in the context of personal experiences of hunger will more likely align their sympathies with those in need  rather than simply suggesting that it is something they should do. 

When able to work towards something they are passionate about under adult supervision, children and youth can be an impressive force for change. Here are some considerations:
  • Begin by presenting multiple local or distant problems that would benefit from philanthropy, and help your class or school to identify those they feel strongly about.
  • Let children and youth take the lead, but provide structural scaffolding for their fundraising efforts.
  • There are really no limits to the types of causes that youth may raise money for, but it is wise to find organizations that spend the lowest percentage of their donations on administrative costs. 
Given that an ideal philanthropy choice is that which resonates personally with the students involved, students often choose causes related to the needs of children, from education and shelter to nutrition and clean water.

Save the Children: Opportunities for Children's Philanthropy

Save the Children exem- plifies a progressive voice that advocates for the rights of children all around the world. This non-governmental organization provides relief for children facing natural disaster, poverty, and war, particularly in developing countries. Because its campaign address a myriad of issues that affect children, it is an excellent avenue for youth to channel their fundraising efforts. Indeed, the Save the Children website highlights individual fundraisers from around the country. This includes the Boght Hills Elementary School in New York. One fifth grader and two second graders wanted to raise money for the survivors of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015. The disaster left the country devastated, moving the three students to action. Through their self-titled "Dollars for Disaster," they have raised upwards of $1,000 by gathering donations in exchange for homemade gifts.


Astington, J. W., & Edward, M. J. (2010, August). The development of Theory of Mind in early childhood. Encyclopedia on Early Child Development.

Lily family school of philanthropy. (2013). New research on charitable giving by girls and boys: Women Give 2013. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University.

Lowry, L. (n.d.). "Tuning in" to others: How young children develop theory of mind. The Hanen Centre.  
Humanitarian Aid through Education: Another Way to Make an Impact
Mahnaz Ahrary, CEI Intern
The Importance of Education. Education is a necessary and effective tool in combating extreme poverty, but it's always important to understand the circumstances, including the culture and history of the country and people involved. In other words, is education useful as a preventative means of violence and conflict? Or is it wiser to examine the nature of the conflict under a microscope to determine the implementation strategies for education that would reap the most benefits for the people within that area? 

Humanitarian efforts for global education initiatives in times of crisis or as a means to prevent crisis, are widespread; most recently in countries like Pakistan, Haiti (post hurricane Matthew), Liberia and Somalia. 
  • However, during times of war and ongoing traumatic events, is education enough to keep the "madmen" at bay?
  •  Despite the interdependence of education and opportunity, there seems to be something missing from this equation: opportunity
Education, in countries experiencing turmoil, appears to be most effective when it includes the same social emotional learning and civic involvement that has been begun to make its way to curriculum here in the U.S. Youth who are victims of war will require more than formal academic education to be able to visualize their own potential worth and contributions to their communities and nation.


USAID (The United States Agency for International Development), the primary agency responsible for administering civilian foreign aid, partners with donors, country governments and the private sector to ensure inclusive, quality education in areas under conflict or crisis. USAID and UNICEF both attest to the global learning crisis. According to USAID 250 million children are not acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills and 121 million children are not in school. It is emphasized that females make up two thirds of the 114 million youth aged 15-24 who cannot read or write a simple sentence.

Read Haiti. USAID has supported 151 basic education programs in 45 countries, directly benefiting more than 41.6 million children and youth. Most recently, USAID awarded a $6.3-million-dollar grant to the University of Notre Dame that will partner with Haitian Catholic Church and other organizations, benefitting over 30,000 children to improve early-grade literacy in Haiti. "Read Haiti" builds upon the success of earlier literacy efforts by Notre Dame in 47 schools. It uses a curriculum that includes textbooks, class libraries and structured teacher guides to improve children's skills in writing and reading in Creole, the native language of 95 percent of Haitians, with a transition to oral French. The project also funds efforts to train and coach teachers, improve teacher-training modules and work with the Ministry of Education and other partners to support improved literacy learning throughout Haiti. (Helm, 2016).

Let Girls Learn. Last summer, USAID also committed $25 million through Let Girls Learn to help sustain a teacher apprenticeship program in Afghanistan for adolescent girls. Because of cultural norms, more female teachers are needed to teach adolescent girls. Again, much of USAID's focus is on empowering women by educating young girls, and in Afghanistan that ultimately depends on the availability of more female teachers. Each situation presents a unique educational need heavily dependent on the circumstances and USAID goals. 

The Impact of Education on Political Violence

Over a decade ago, the "War on Terror" was expanded on Al-Shabab, an Islamist militant group in Somalia that was named part of the conflict that Congress approved in its Authorization of Military Force Resolution after September 11, 2001. This group still continues to recruit members, mostly young Somali men. Somalia's government believes that the way to prevent young men from joining violent extremist groups is to provide greater access to schools, based upon the belief that experts agree upon that young men who cannot get an education will be more likely to join violent extremist groups. 

The Mercy Corps decided to research this hypo- thesis in Somaliland (an autonomous region of Somalia by the interna- tional community, but people there declared it an independent republic in 1991). Even though Al-Shabab is less active in this area, recent news indicates that Somaliland youth have been implicated in recent deadly attacks, leading the government to suspect Al-Shabab cells.
  • Mercy Corps compared 298 out of school youth, ages 15-21 with 504 young people who attended secondary schools created and supported under Mercy Corps's USAID-funded Somali Youth Learners Initiative program, using survey methods.
  • They found that formal education did reduce the likelihood of joining terrorist cells by 16%; however, it also increased the support for political violence by 11 percent.
  • Secondary school youth were more likely than out of school youth to think a political cause justified the use of violence.
In other words, more education could contribute to violent extremism due to the disappointing employment prospects where youth blame the government for not meeting their educational expectations. It is much easier to exploit young men where there is a lingering pessimism and dissatisfaction and recruit them for political purposes that will eventually justify violence.

Mercy Corps suggested that in addition to improving access to formal secondary education, that getting the students involved in civic activities like community service such as organizing events to raise awareness about pressing issues facing youth, including illegal migration.
  • The combination of education and civic engagement opportunities revealed that support for political violence dropped by 13% and 20% respectively.
  • Education and civic engagement gave the students a sense of agency; a belief that nonviolent actions could contribute to progress. Although education is important, it is a first step that must show young people how to use what they learn to influence their lives and communities. Young people need to feel empowered to realize that they can be productive citizens who can contribute to change that ultimately affects their nation and world.
How Youth in the US can be involved in Humanitarian Efforts Overseas

Certainly, youth overseas are the benefactors of humanitarian efforts. Schools which do not help youth in the US to understand the importance of these humanitarian efforts are neglecting an important area of study. So, the information in this article can serve as a good resource for school administrators and teachers to help stimulate discussions of international humanitarian efforts to improve education. However, schools can take another step.

The Ashoka Foundation's Youth Venture Global Youth Council

The Ashoka Youth Venture Global Youth Council works to collaborate with others to create meaningful change on emerging social issues and looks into opportunities for improving our world. These young advocates of social change have used their own knowledge and started social ventures and community-building initiatives to empower heroes to positively impact communities. Their goal is to inspire other young people to activate the changemaker within via various projects, calls to action and campaigns tailored to emerging and relevant social issues.

Empathy. One of the inspiring individuals featured on a short video clip on the council website is Daniella Cohen, now a student at Princeton who became an Ashoka changemaker as a 17-year-old in Illinois who was passionate about empathy, cultural understanding, race relations and the environment. She is the co-founder of GIVE, a project that funds and installs internet, films educational peer to peer videos, and sends computers, letters, and flip flops signed with messages of hope to schools in India, Uganda and Rwanda. 

A strong believer in the power of human narratives and storytelling, Amit Dodani (from Los Angeles) also a member of the council, is the founder of My Name My Story, an organization inspiring empathy in changemakers throughout youth communities. He has worked with many schools across the country on creating cultures of empathy including partnering with organizations like Ashoka U and Teach for America.

Shubham Banerjee from Santa Clara is another changemaker. He is only 13 years old and is the youngest entrepreneur to receive venture capital and has been regularly featured in International and National Media. The founder of Braigo Labs, he used Lego to create a low-cost Braille printer that he designed to print Braille reading materials from a personal computer or electronic device on to paper using raised dots instead of ink. He has had thousands of articles written about him in major publications and he holds several awards for innovation from (to name a few): The White House, US News, Popular Science, and Trusted News. Believing change takes guts and who is more resilient than the youth of our nation if we hand them the right tools and serve as the inspiration they need to find the changemaker within themselves. That's how change starts and engaging in humanitarian efforts is sparked by a flame that burns and awakens the deepest levels of hope.

Helm, T. (2016). USAID announces grant to Notre Dame to support literacy in Haiti. Notre Dame news.

Education. (2015). R2011-2015: US AID Education strategy progress report Washington DC US AID.

USAID announces $25 million to support adolescent girls' education in Afghanistan through Partnership with DFID. (2016). US AID

United States Youth Council. (n.d.). Youth venture.
Service Learning in Action
By Christine Mason
One way for schools to practice philanthropy is service learning where students undertake specific hands-on projects to help others. The Bright Hub Website includes several good examples, providing ideas such as steps to take if a school "adopts a nursing home" for year:
  • Write letters
  • Prepare speeches to make to the residents
  • Budget for and take a field trip.
As Margo Dill (n.d.) indicates: "Even the youngest elementary student can take part in service learning. Children can learn at a young age what it means to help people in their community, state, and even the world."

Service Learning in Hudson Public Schools

Hudson, a small town of about 19,000 people, is a suburb of Boston. The Commission for the Civic Mission for schools describes the long-time involvement of Hudson Public schools in programs to enhance students' empathy. For over a decade, Hudson has focused on empathy, ethics, and service. The curriculum reflects these values and Hudson has taken many steps to support its mission "to promote the intellectual, ethical, civic, and social development of students through a challenging instructional program and a caring classroom and school environment."

Here are a few examples of projects undertaken by Hudson Schools:
  • A recycling program operated as part of their environmental studies science unit;
  • A holiday toy drive which was linked to a social studies unit on community.
  • Raising money for the March of Dimes.
At Hudson, each grade level also conducts its own service learning projects.
  • Through a relationship with senior citizens at their local Senior Center, a program where seniors help teach first grade students basic literacy skills.
  • Hudson's third grades collects food for a local Food Pantry.
  • The fourth grade is involved in protecting and caring for wetlands and other natural areas near our schools.
  • Fifth-graders peer tutor children who have multiple handicap and are reading buddies for some of our first grade classes.
How to Implement Service Learning

As Elkind and Flasher point out in a "Service Learning Primer" "Service learning is neither an add-on nor a diversion from the curriculum. It is a powerful approach to teaching that provides kids with authentic learning experiences in which they learn academic content in a real-life, real-world context." 

In their primer, Elkind and Flasher mention many of the advantages of service learning, including:
  • "The kids love doing it. It's engaging, inspiring, and motivates them to learn.
  • It develops the students' communication skills by requiring them to read, write, listen, and speak.
  • In addition to academic content, students learn a range of valuable practical skills including: problem solving, organizing, collaborating, project management, research, dealing with obstacles and setbacks, etc.
  • It develops character virtues and interpersonal habits such as respect, responsibility, empathy, cooperation, citizenship, initiative, and persistence.
  • It empowers the kids with the realization that they can make a difference.
  • It makes a positive contribution to the community.
  • All kids can actively participate and make a meaningful contribution regardless of their talents or their deficits."
To prepare for service learning, Elkind and Flasher suggest that before deciding on a project, that students and teachers take time to explore possible opportunities, reflect on possible solutions as well as barriers to implementation, and research available resources. In planning for projects, students have important opportunities to connect with parents and members of their local communities. 

As projects are undertaken, students can benefit from reflecting on their progress. Cognitive reflection includes consideration of the "what" that was achieved. Affective reflection asks students to consider how they felt. As students implement their projects, they can also engaged in process reflection to consider how they worked as teams and what they might do differently in the future to improve their process.

Service Learning Resources

Here are some other websites that have lists of options for service learning projects:


Dill, M. (n.d.) Easy service learning project for elementary students. Bright Hub Education

What could 50.4 million children do?

There are dozens of reasons why students should study about and practice philanthropy. Some students live lives far removed from the destitution of children overseas. Engaging in service learning or raising funds for special causes opens a window into another world as children connect and practice compassion.  On the other hand, children living in poverty may find that being part of a humanitarian school project gives them a rare opportunity as the "giver."  And what of crowd sourcing, volunteering time, or participating in special projects organized by groups such as the Ashoka Foundation?

 Philanthropy provides a multifaceted opportunity for real-life, hands-on learning.  Might our world be a better place if 50.4 million students were more directly involved in giving? If it were only a $1 each, is there a chance that $50 million might make a difference?


Christine Mason
Center for Educational Improvement