Written by Jethro Swain, University of Washington Journalism Student
This year, Seattle Girls’ School’s Pay It Forward project featured another group of passionate seventh graders who presented their own creative solutions to real world political and social issues such as tiger poaching, premature deaths in Liberia, and police brutality.
The Pay It Forward event, which has been put on by Seattle Girls School since 2002, aims to show students that they can not only identify problems in the world, but that they can be activists in their community and have the power to impact those problems for the better.
The project culminated in a virtual event on May 18 where students presented their issues and solutions to their parents, teachers, and classmates.
“The biggest difference with this project is that it is completely student driven,” said seventh grade teacher Wendy Ewbank. “It is their choice what their topic is. There are so many elements [to the project] that they can utilize their own personal creativity… what that ends up looking like is very different for each student based on their own interests, their own skills, their own ideas.”
There were a total of 38 students who participated in the Pay It Forward project, and Wendy was one of four teachers who helped guide the students. The projects ranged in topics from sex trafficking in the U.S., to abuse of horses in racing, to heteronormative TV programming.
One student of Wendy’s, Eden, presented the issue of tiger poaching in African countries. Eden effectively identified the root causes of why tigers are being poached, explained who is responsible for their safety, and made specific suggestions to prevent them from being poached in the future.
Another student, Tatum, presented on premature deaths in Liberia, using a similar approach to propose a plan which would call on people across the world to donate to organizations who would provide vaccines to Liberian communities.
Seventh grader, Brooklyn, spoke about police brutality in her presentation. The opening line on the front page of her website reads, “the first thing we need to understand about police brutality today is that it’s not new. Historically, police were never intended to not be violent and to not be racist. From slave patrols, to brutality in the civil rights movement, to police violence today, the end result of people dying and police having control has never changed.”
Brooklyn addressed many issues with law enforcement in the United States in her project. She argued multiple solutions for stopping police brutality, a few of which were to take away the societal power of police and increase police accountability.
In the past students have gone on to present their Pay It Forward projects in real world settings. “One student one year wrote about Guantanamo detainees and got a letter to the editor published in the newspaper,” shared Wendy who also recalled students that have presented their projects at luncheons and teacher conferences. Wendy is optimistic that some of her students this year could have similar opportunities.
“A major theme of SGS in general is voice, and students developing their voice,” said Wendy. “Research shows that if students participate in this kind of activism, they’ll be more likely to vote when they grow up.”
SGS students have historically gone on to be leaders and advocates in their high school communities and beyond. Thanks to events like the Pay It Forward project, students at SGS can find a sense of empowerment and embrace the notion that they are fully capable of becoming change agents right now.
You can learn more about the 2021 Pay It Forward project and find links to students’ websites by clicking here.
About the author: Jethro Swain is a student at the University of Washington studying Journalism who also writes for local Seattle publications. Thank you, Jethro, for your interest in Pay It Forward and writing a wonderful piece about the event!