Teachers are built from stronger stuff. Each day, they encourage children’s strengths and comfort their insecurities. They answer questions big (“Why is the sky blue?”) and small (“May I use the bathroom?”). They build the foundation of children’s lifelong ability to be kind friends and confident learners.
When outnumbered by dozens of unruly 10-and-unders, just assembling them into neat-ish lines for recess is a feat. Navigating a global pandemic as an educator is worthy of every honor. Teachers are heroes for their sacrifice, patience, and enthusiasm.
At an elementary school in Wyoming, teachers aren’t just investing in the students of their local community. They’re changing lives around the world.
At Summit Elementary, third-grade teacher Abby Bishop is empowering her students to make the world a better place.
“We want our third graders to recognize that they live in a big world,” Abby said.
For Abby, part of this is teaching students that everyone “deserves to feel safe, loved, and connected.”
These feelings are a lot harder to access if someone is struggling just to feel fed, hydrated, and healthy.
“[People] deserve to have their basic needs met,” Abby explained. “Third graders really grasp this concept. They catch the fever of how good it feels to give life to someone and start doing all kinds of amazing things.”
For third graders at Summit Elementary, “all kinds” takes on a new meaning. Students have biked for clean water or walked with gallon jugs on their heads to raise awareness for the journey millions of kids take every day. They’ve set up lemonade stands and donated their profits. They’ve mobilized their parents, friends, and neighbors.
Although the method has varied, the motivation is the same. The students are fueled by a shared desire to make life better for people around the world. Whether they’re walking, biking, or mixing lemonade, they’re simultaneously building compassion and empathy.
Abby has worked hard to instill these values in her students.
“We talk about how access to clean water doesn’t just make a person healthier, it changes their entire life and opens up opportunities. Changing people’s lives for good is the legacy we want to leave.”
Their hard work has been well-rewarded. Since 2014, the students have raised more than $40,000. This year, Summit Elementary celebrated reaching 1,000 people with clean water.
For Abby, the outcome of her student’s effort is especially gratifying. “It was also almost 1,000 third graders, who, over the past 10 years, have participated in our campaigns whose lives have also been changed. That’s a whole lot of good!”
Almost 1,000 students, all changing the world for 1,000 people they’ll likely never meet.
These 1,000 students have never visited a rural community in the deserts of Mali, hiked to a mountain spring in Nepal, or eaten fufu around a fire with a family in Ethiopia. They’ve never collected dirty water from a pond shared with wild animals or livestock. They’ve probably never even heard of the diseases children in developing countries often face like bilharzia, giardia, or typhoid.
But they didn’t need to witness the impact of the water crisis first-hand to understand it was important. They heard about a need, and they responded—gallon jugs and cups of lemonade in hand.
Now, wherever clean water flows, so will the impact of their generosity. Children living in rural communities will be healthier. Students will have access to clean water and proper sanitation in their schools. All because of a third-grade classroom thousands of miles away in rural Wyoming.
As we age, going the extra mile to change the world for someone in need can feel increasingly difficult. Even though the numbers are going down—from 785 million to 771 million in a single year— ending the water crisis can seem further and further out of reach.
There’s something wonderful that distinguishes children from many of their adult counterparts. (And no, it’s not just their height). Kids refuse to be intimidated by the odds. They don’t see the world as a messy amalgamation of people, politics, and problems. They see friends to be made and adventures to be had.
They believe—unshakably, foolishly, wonderfully— that they can make a difference. It’s the spark teachers nurture in their classrooms each day and that the world desperately needs.
We have so much to learn from kids’ examples of unhindered generosity. They’re a testimony to the fact that hands, when moved by compassion, are never too small to make an impact. And their teachers—like Abby Bishop—are a stunning illustration of how to plant seeds of kindness that will grow deep roots.
So, wherever you find yourself today, I hope Summit Elementary inspires you to believe a little more fearlessly in your own ability to change the world.