January 06, 2015 15:25 Age: 3 yrs

A Bake Sale for Malala: Character Development Builds Leaders at AF Bridgeport Academy Middle

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Katie Parente is an academic dean at Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Middle. 

We’ve told our kids countless times, “Your academics matter a lot, you’ve got to be an analytical thinker and you’ve got to know your stuff, BUT if you don’t have strong character skills—if you don’t preserve through difficult times, use grit when the going gets tough, treat people around you with kindness, do the right thing when no one is looking—it doesn’t matter how academically talented you are.” We care so much about character development because we know strong character skills will help our students face the many challenges that come with college, careers and leadership in life. The teachers at AF Bridgeport Academy Middle understand that to teach character is to model it and to provide students with authentic experiences to apply character skills.

I was reminded of this when our seventh-grade writing and math teachers, Jason Burger and Colby Smith, took a character lesson planned by our dean of students to the next level. They shared an article about Malala Yousafzai, the young advocate for education and women in Pakistan, and taught students about the Malala Fund for girls’ education. What happened next was the collective work of a great team.  Jason and Colby took Dean Damian Ramsey’s plan, shared the nonfiction text with their seventh-grade advisory and let seventh-grader Courtney take it from there. Courtney and a few of her friends were inspired by Malala’s story, outraged by the inequality embedded in her story and determined to be a part of the change immediately.

Together, Courtney, Jisselis and Rosa created a plan to raise money and awareness for the Malala Fund. They sent our principal a formal letter asking to host a bake sale at school. Upon approval, they not only planned but promoted and advertised the bake sale and its purpose to our entire school. Not a single detail was left out of their bake-sale planning—they were even especially mindful that ours’ is a peanut-free school.

Courtney and her friends worked with parents, teachers, leaders and classmates as they ensured the bake sale would be a success. On the day of the bake sale, Courtney and her team ran a successful business and “Malala awareness” campaign. They raised almost $500 over the course of two days and donated 100 percent of the profit to the Malala Fund.

Courtney and her classmates are inspirational young adults, and they are also inspired by some pretty amazing teachers and leaders. Jason and Colby created a space for the girls to take their interest and passion to the next level and be leaders in our community right now. That’s what we do at Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Middle. Both teachers saw a way to inspire students. They allowed our students the creative license to create a plan to react to what they had learned and then, most importantly, gave them an opportunity to practice leadership. Our students are learning to be informed citizens and leaders, not “later in life” but right now. For me, working at a school that values character as much as it values academics is exceptionally special. 

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