“Who is going to change the world?”
This affirmation from nearly 18,000 students echoed throughout the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Nov. 8, as students from across the Midwest gathered for WE Day Minnesota. Among the crowd were students from Hopkins Public Schools. And 250 students earned tickets to the event, representing each Hopkins school. The theme this year was Generation WE, or Gen WE for short.
WE Day is a star-studded, all-day event that is part of the WE Movement, which recognizes and celebrates youth volunteerism, service learning, and community involvement. Tickets to WE Day aren’t purchased, but earned. In order to attend WE Day, students must complete at least one local and one global action that make a positive difference. And Hopkins students far surpassed that.
In 2016, Royals at every grade level organized projects and events that benefitted communities here in the Twin Cities and around the world. Hopkins students recorded over 250 service hours, including hosting WE-sanctioned events like the WE Scare Hunger food drive, a WE Are Love kindness campaign, and by taking the WE Take Charge positivity pledge.
Campaigns at North Junior High and Gatewood Elementary were recognized and earned them seats on the event floor.
At North, the students spent last year implementing several initiatives that promoted inclusivity and acceptance. Students created a film and two-page yearbook spread to recognize students in their developmentally and cognitively delayed program. Educator Angela Wilcox explained the students wanted to share the positive contributions and friendships they bring to the school. Students also collaborated to translate documents into other languages for new families and hosted a Penny War to raise money for the Pinky Swear Foundation, which supports children living with cancer. Ninth- and seventh-grade students also worked together to host a jean drive. The jeans were cut into pieces and donated to Sole Hope in Uganda, which makes shoes for these in need.
“It was powerful for students to feel like they could impact students across the world,” Wilcox said.
At Gatewood, students were focused on projects that related to community giving. During its WE Scare Hunger campaign, the school collected 450 pounds of food and donated it to the ICA Food Shelf in Hopkins. But this lead to something even bigger. Gatewood Kids & Company staffer Kara Wattunen said students realized that “having access to food should be a basic human right,” and wanted to do something more to help those in need. They created an initiative called HOPE (Helping Other People Eat), which hosts meals for people every other week and offers to-go boxes with basic necessities. Students have created partnerships with local businesses to secure donations and places to host meals.
“Students are starting to think of others more than themselves, and not just in an, ‘I need to help them way,’” Wattunen said. “They truly embrace the concept of WE.”
During the event, students saw performances from “America’s Got Talent” winner Grace VanderWaal and up-and-coming Canadian performer Jessie Reyez. And they heard from keynote speakers Lizzie Velasquez, who is a motivational speaker and anti-bullying activist, and Ann Curry, nationally known news reporter/anchor. There was also a surprise guest, Olympian Laurie Hernandez, who talked literacy and the importance of reading.