Most educators enter their profession to change students’ lives for the better, leaving an indelible impression with hopes that a pupil will go on to change the world.
For Long Valley Middle School’s House 6-2 Social Studies teacher Matt Marciano, having his students change the world now, rather than later, is his main focus.
Marciano entered the district four years ago, and is currently instructing his third year of the annual Change The World project, where all 110 of his students choose a theme, or problem in the world, how it affects society, and come up with goals and problem solutions to fix it.
This year, Marciano invited his students’ parents to join in the project and come up with their own Change The World topics and solutions. About 15 have taken part in the exercise, Marciano said.
On Martin Luther King Day, Marciano invited parents to a walk-through at the Middle School’s Learning Community Center, where student projects–colorfully and strategically outlined on poster boards–hung from walls and were placed on tables for all to see.
The scope of projects reaches far and wide, some with singular focus and others trying to reach the world by working or beginning locally.
Reducing world hunger, crocheting blankets for ill children, and helping senior citizens learn how to use various forms of technology were among the projects, just to name a few. In today's Internet age, one student vowed to use Facebook and Twitter to help spread awareness about the dangers of teen smoking.
The students showed excitement about their projects, and didn’t treat the task like another homework assignment. Some have poured hours into the execution of their project already, and others plan to devote future weekends to completing the work.
Lexi Ventriglia knew right away what her project was going to be, and it strikes a personal note with her and her family.
“I want to help seniors and disabled people at their homes to help them do the chores they can’t do themselves,” said Ventriglia. “My great-grandmother needs help now, and I know other people do too. That’s why I chose that as my project.”
For other students, it’s a love of pets that spurred the topic.
“Our cat was a stray and was very sick when we found him,” said Alyssa DeSimone. “So I want to help stray animals find good homes so they don’t get sick.”
Marciano’s classroom is adorned with quotes and phrases from civil leaders past and present, including one from Mahatma Gandhi that reads, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
One of Marciano’s students, Sean Giles, did just what the quote said, and paid it forward in his own way.
Some of Giles's family members homes were so affected by Hurricane Irene, he said, that there came a time when they needed to receive a donation from a local food pantry, and he wanted to give back.
“My goal was to fill eight boxes of food for the pantry, and I filled up 10,” Giles said of his accomplishment. “We took the food and had to sort it into categories, and depending on the size of the family, that’s how much food they got.”
Giles spent his time at the Interfaith Food Pantry of Morris Plains to complete his project.
Marciano’s deadline for the project, which counts as a test score for the students, is the end of May. The criteria for the grade is to see the project–and proposed solution–through to completion, Marciano said.
Sixth grade consists mostly of 11- and 12-year-olds, an age where the scope of topics like world hunger and persons with disabilities may be too broad to grasp.
But because of Marciano’s class, these students now have a great start in their quest to be the change they want to see in the world.