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Grants to Support Civic Engagement Projects

Lynda Thornton (right), a sixth-grade teacher at Washington Middle School in Meriden, said she was honored “to have had the opportunity to apply” for the grant funds. “I thought it would be a great thing, so I took a chance, never thinking I would actually win,” added Thornton, a member of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Meriden Federation of Teachers.
District officials, in collaboration with our union members, are implementing a restorative justice program with a focus on student voices in Meriden Public Schools. Thornton said her grant will enable sixth-grade reading classes to use books on acceptance, diversity and resolving conflict to discuss how a main character overcomes struggles.
Thornton used her grant’s resources to purchase five texts from First Book’s Marketplace that “all tie into the theme of accepting others’ differences” for her district’s middle schools.
Click here to order books and literacy resources from the marketplace.
“I believe in the power of collaboration,” said Erin Benham, president of the Meriden Federation of Teachers. “Our union at the local, state and national levels has enjoyed such positive partnerships with First Book and the Albert Shanker Institute. Our students will benefit greatly by Lynda’s initiative as we continue our work in restorative practices,” she added.
Educators and others working with students nationwide in June were invited to apply for the $500.00 grants by proposing a specific project the resources could help fund. They were specifically asked to identify an issue and a civic engagement effort important to their school community, and how, through books, their students could take action to address it. 
More than 920 proposals were received by the August deadline. Some of the winning projects include global cultural perspectives to build compassion, a community garden to promote healthy eating, and building a health and wellness library. The 15 winning educators — five each from elementary, middle and high schools— will receive a collection of special resources to help them implement their vision.
“A big part of education is encouraging our kids to be engaged and informed citizens,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “What I’m most excited about is the lasting effect these projects will have not just on their local communities but also on students’ understanding of their rights, responsibilities and power as citizens,” added Weingarten, who also serves as president of the Shanker Institute.
Click here to learn more about the Citizen Power project.
The project’s grant funds are credits through First Book, a social enterprise that has provided new books, learning materials and other essentials to children in need since 1992. The non-profit organization has had a long relationship with our national union and offers educators high-quality books and educational resources at deeply discounted prices.
“The future of our country depends on igniting young people’s interest in civic engagement,” said First Book President Kyle Zimmer. “We believe these projects, and the books and resources First Book will provide to help them flourish, will help these young leaders advance the causes they are so passionate about,” added Zimmer.
Click here to learn more about First Book’s commitment to the project.
Financial support for the Citizen Power Challenge was provided by the Aspen Institute’s Pluribus Project, a nation-wide effort to catalyze innovation to “build the political power of the people.” The project launched last year by convening so-called “collaboratories” that bring together domain experts and practitioners with successful innovators and investors from other sectors.
“In a time of so much cynicism, these student teams show us that it’s possible — and necessary — for everyday Americans to create positive change in their communities,” said Eric Liu, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity Program. “Sometimes it takes young people to remind the rest of the country how to be empowered citizens,” added Liu.
Click here to learn more about the Aspen Institute’s Pluribus Project.

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