What if young teens spent their middle school years thinking about important world issues instead of the typical worries about popularity and or awkward social situations? We asked ourselves this question seven years ago as we prepared to launch our first middle school social justice trip. Our goal was to help direct our students’ attention toward things that seem unjust, and to demonstrate for them that they have power to make a difference in solving them.
Last night, I returned from a profound week learning about hunger and poverty with a busload of 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Our experience at Heifer Ranch was transformative, involving simulations, Jewish text study, data analysis and deep discussion. It included an 18 hour overnight simulation of what it’s like to live without adequate resources.
Eighth grader Hayley L. summed it up well, “I’ve read about these things, but experiencing even a taste of how families in poverty feel makes an impact. It’s shocking that people live like this every day.”
Ayden, also in 8th grade, added: “It made me realize how much we have. Until you are sleeping on the floor, you don’t realize how much you appreciate a bed. When there’s nothing to eat, you realize how lucky you are to have three meals a day. When you have to spend an entire day making sure you have food to eat, you realize how lucky you are to have time for sports and other hobbies.”
Middle school at Mirowitz offers its students not only a superior academic experience and the nourishment of Jewish learning. It also provides students with a sophisticated sense of social responsibility. Without exception, our students emerge as young leaders who are prepared to use their energy, voice and power to pursue justice and participate in the repair of the world.