There couldn’t be a more meaningful time to recognize the work of Lori Wenzinger (center), recipient of the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Teaching Award of Excellence.
Last weekend our curriculum specialists were in South Carolina to present the SocialStudies.com Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Teaching Award of Excellence. The recipient was Lori Wenzinger, who started a chapter of Hate Won't Win at her school to fight against hate crime, inspiring students to start their own movement. There could not be a more opportune time than now to discuss the need to fight hate and intolerance in our country.
Each year the award honors a teacher who has made an impact in civil rights and inspired students to do the same. Wenzinger’s recent contributions to teaching civil rights was inspired by tragic events in her state. After the 2015 Charleston church shooting of nine people in a predominantly African American church, she faced anger, grief, and shock. Like so many individuals from the Charleston community, she looked for positive ways to channel her feelings after the tragedy.
The event urged Wenzinger to create a chapter of Hate Won't Win with the seventh and eighth graders at Dutch Fork Middle School. From this club something wonderful happened—probably what every social studies teacher dreams of—the students founded their own student-led initiative, called Action for Unity. For social studies educators everywhere, Wenzinger's story is a moving one: not only did she transform grief into action, but her action was so effective that she was able to inspire her students to begin their own quest for civil rights.
Moments like this are what makes working in social studies education unlike any other area. For our team members, the best part is getting the opportunity to meet the incredible educators who are so devoted to improving the current state of civil rights in our country through civic learning, and inspiring young people to create change. It's like seeing history happen.
A little more about Action for Unity
Wenzinger stated that the prize money would go to her students in Action for Unity. The student-led group launched in 2015 with the goal to fight hate and intolerance. The group is also referred to simply as ACTION, an acronym for Assisting Communities Together Inspiring Our Neighbors.
The project started small and grew into a much larger effort that was able to grow out of the middle school walls and into the community. To drive various service projects, students in the group meet with their mentors throughout the school year to address civic needs in the community. Meanwhile this provides opportunities for students to practice working on projects relating to their career aspirations.
Start a chapter at your school
Wenzinger also runs a blog, Action for Unity, covering her journey with her students to "promote unity between diverse groups through partnerships and purposeful acts of kindness." She hopes others will find the information they need there to start Action for Unity groups at their own schools.
To start a chapter, first go to the Action website's contact page. From there, you can request written permission to begin a chapter. This will give you the right to use the name, ideas, and projects, which are copyrighted to protect the integrity of the program. This helps to guarantee that the original goals of the program continue to be supported.