Students are changing the world because they read.

On a cold day in February, I started class the way I always seem to do these days: with a themed book talk. I included a variety of genres and forms in this collection of books that centers around the big idea of poverty: YA, nonfiction, written in verse, novel, and memoir to name a few.poverty

Included in this collection was Banker to the Poor, a memoir about the birth of microcredit and microlending.

Below an excerpt from the official Banker to the Poor website which I think helps explain what a microloan is and how the idea came to be:

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One of my grade eleven girls quickly keyed in on this particular title, which came as no surprise. She has been a nonfiction-junkie this year, and the topic is right up her alley.

Time passed, we periodically conferred about her book, and then something happened.

Last week she insisted that she confer with me first, before any other students. She announced to me, “Mrs. Swinehart! I have big news that I think you’ll want to know about!”

She was right.

She went on to explain that she had received some money as a gift for her recent birthday.  Her big news was that because she was inspired by the book she was reading, she would use some of her birthday money to help fund a microloan.

What an empowering connection between the real world and the text she was reading.

Talk about proud teacher moment.

What if she hadn’t had the freedom of choice in her reading life? If she had been in a class that required her to read a shared text – perhaps a classic like The Scarlet Letter, which I’ve taught several times and has always been one of my favorites – but in a class that didn’t offer her choice? Or if the whole class had been required to read her choice of text? The magic would have been gone.

I was reminded of how impactful the freedom of choice in a healthy reading life is to our students.

I think I offered her some encouraging words, but basically I told her that I loved that she was thinking hard and implementing change in the lives of others. Then I told her to reflect in her online reader’s notebook about what she was considering. Here’s part of what she wrote:

This book has inspired me to experiment with micro lending and make my first investment. I decided this something I wanted to do on … the day of my birthday. I had recieved some birthday money but I realised I didn’t really need it. I’ve been blessed with a family who provides for me everything I need. However there are a lot people in this world who are not as fortunate as I am. After doing some research, I decided that I wanted to make in an investment in someone facing poverty trying to start a business…

Since that day last week, she followed through and partially funded four microloans through, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco. The recipients are all aiming to improve their small businesses: One is a taxi driver. One is a barber. One owns a small hardware store. One is a seamstress.

My student knows that she is doing something that takes maturity and some serious thinking about the future. She knows she the money she has lent has a chance of not being repaid, but she’s okay with the risks because she knows it is worthwhile.

What I’m not sure she realized is what a big moment this is for her. She is discovering that she is a powerful young woman who makes thoughtful decisions about herself and the world around her.

I believe this has the potential to be a watershed moment in her life. A time when she realizes what kind of contribution she has the power to offer the world.

What teenager doesn’t want to come to that sort of authentic realization? That they matter and the world needs them?

After funding the loans, she has taken it a step further. Our school allows students time to develop and work on their own passion projects using the Design Thinking method. She’s changed her passion project to microlending.

She’s in AP Capstone, and is now doing her research project around microlending.

This afternoon she auditioned to present on the topic of microlending at the TEDx event our school is hosting in June.

She has passion, drive, and enthusiasm. She is inspired because she is reading a book she heard about through a regular classroom booktalk.

Booktalks have power. More power than I ever realized.

As a teacher, I have the humble goal of supporting and encouraging the reading lives of the students I have in my classes.

And those students are changing the world.


Follow Julie on Twitter: @SwinehartJulie

Author: adventuresinhighschoolworkshop

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, four in Amman, Jordan, and is currently in her second year teaching in Managua, Nicaragua.

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