Students at Mt. Slesse Elementary School laced up and headed to the school’s gymnasium on April 25.
They were off to join a group of Grade 9ers who had spent months organizing an immersive event designed to give them the opportunity to walk in another person’s shoes. The activity was part of a project the school’s leadership class—led by educator, Sandi Rae—put together as part of their latest WE Schools campaign.
Every year, Sandi rotates through a new class of students. And with the new students, comes new interests and a new cause to champion. With a strong student interest in accessibility this past school year, the class chose the WE are One campaign to support.
Sandi coached the students through the process of building an action plan that would help promote awareness around accessibility issues, and soon the young teens were ushering in schoolmates from grades 7, 8 and 9 to play wheelchair basketball and blind-folded soccer in the gymnasium. By the event’s end, students were left wanting more, eager to continue learning.
According to Sandie, “the kids biggest regret was that they didn’t do it over a two-day period, so that every student in the school would have the opportunity to learn about inclusivity.”
Although the educator is always impressed with her students’ empathetic and mindful approach to WE School campaigns, Sandi’s most recent class exceeded her high expectations—not only because of the group’s initiative (the students did everything from the outreach and research to the organization an execution of the activity), but in their creative approach.
“There are so many lessons in sports—it’s teaching in a different way that gets kids physical. They’re not just listening and discussing, they’re doing.”
It began with an out-of-the-box strategy: the students chose sports to engage their peers. “The kids wanted to change it up,” Sandi says. “They go through classes all day where they’re sitting and listening. There are so many lessons in sports—it’s teaching in a different way that gets kids physical. They’re not just listening and discussing, they’re doing.”
When speaking with Sandi, one can’t help but notice how quick she is to credit the success of the campaign to her students. Still, it’s evident that the set up—guided by her—led to her leadership group’s win. For the educator, it’s all about the art of passing: passing on compassion and passing on opportunity.
“A good coach will make his players see what they can become rather than what they are,” famously said Ara Parseghian, an American football player and coach known for leading the University of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish to two national championships.
Like the legendary coach, Sandi sees a leader in each of her students and fosters the skills and confidence necessary to realize their full potential. That’s why when it comes to her coaching style, she’s about guidance over dominance.
From her experience, Sandi asserts students will always rise to the responsibility. Moreover, it’s the perspective these young people bring that really makes campaigns shine. Speaking of the WE are One campaign, she gushes when touching upon student involvement. “They took the reins on it and did what they thought [their fellow] students would get the most out of,” she says. “My guess is the Grade 9s next year will want to do it again because it was so successful.”
Although it’s possible to measure the success of this year’s WE Schools campaign in student takeaways—a deep appreciation for the athletic skill flexed by Paralympic athletes through a game of wheelchair basketball, an understanding of the communication challenges facing the seeing-impaired, in addition to more awareness of invisible disabilities like autism, developmental delays and dyslexia—its true success is in how one teacher passed on a lesson in leadership and compassion that will run on for generations.