STEM program KidsMakeItRight is exposing elementary schoolers to compassion - Generocity Philly

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Dec. 7, 2017 10:18 am

STEM program KidsMakeItRight is exposing elementary schoolers to compassion

The social impact extension of local edtech startup SmartyPal is offering project-based learning for kids to tackle issues like environmental protection.

Posters drawn up by students of KidsMakeItRight.

(Courtesy photo)

Local edtech startup SmartyPal was created with a framework that focused on six C’s: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, confidence and content.

It’s a model that has certainly proved effective for the National Science Foundation-lauded company, cofounded by Prasanna Krishnan back in 2013.

But Krishnan, who is also chairman and chief product officer at SmartyPal, always felt they were missing one of the most important C’s when it came to offering services for children — compassion. For her, compassion is more than just empathy.

“I think empathy is saying, ‘I feel your pain,’ and compassion is saying, ‘I feel the pain and I want to try to do something about it,’” Krishnan said.

Enter KidsMakeItRight, an after-school program associated with SmartyPal that has a social mission of introducing compassion to elementary school students through project-based learning focused on different social justice issues.

The idea for the program came from Krishnan’s time watching a documentary about plastics and learning about the harm it brings to our oceans, which inspired her to work with her 6-year-old son in creating a poster that would remind people not to throw away plastics in the trash.

That experience led Krishnan to start working on a curriculum for KidsMakeItRight’s first project, the Planet Protector Project. She launched a pilot version this past October at two locations, McCall Elementary School and the Starr Garden Rec Center, where she and her SmartyPal colleague Brian Verdine started to run the program through six after-school sessions.

This “lean startup approach” (all-too familiar for Krishnan) helped them to gauge interest for such a program with students and their parents — it turned out to be a hit. By the end of the projects, students created posters of their own and several of the kids even bugged their parents to have their finished posters hung up in various locations, like their local grocery store or near the trash cans at their schools.

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Some of the posters right in our own office kitchen. (Courtesy photo)

Planet Protector Project posters. (Courtesy photo)

With even the city taking steps to become more environmentally conscious, Krishnan said a project-based learning approach with something like the Planet Protector Project offers a integrated, deeper level of learning for kids in the area, who end up learning the ‘why’ in addition to the ‘what.’

As for including local businesses and orgs into the process, especially ones that can offer their experiences working in areas the KidsMakeItRight projects focus on, Krishnan said there are ideas brewing.

For example, one of the sessions held this past October, when kids brought in old t-shirts to make reusable cloth napkins, was inspired by a visit she made to Revolution Recovery, a local waste recycling facility that works with artists to create artwork from the trash collected there.

Planning for Spring 2018 programming is already underway too. One of Krishnan’s major goals is to enlist mentors to facilitate projects with small teams of elementary schoolers at more locations. And don’t count middle school students out just yet — Krishnan said her time spent recently with the Business of Doing Good, a social entrepreneurship program aimed at middle schoolers, taught her what changes to the curriculum would be needed to start offering a program to them.

Krishnan said she hopes to make KidsMakeItRight a sustainable program but still focused on offering young’uns not only the knowledge to become aware of the issues out there but also the skills necessary to start tackling them.

Krishnan quoted the late Nelson Mandela to make her point: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

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