Gandhi certainly did his part to change the world. On the other hand, he didn’t want others feeling dwarfed by his giant footsteps in their efforts to make a difference. “You be the change maker if you want to change the world,” were his words. Out of that, an initiative called “Design for Change” has emerged from India in which students must identify a problem, plan a solution and put it into effect. Pearl River Middle School teacher Jim Guerci has picked up on it and propelled his 5th graders onto completion with a worthy simplicity.
“Just one little thing can ripple throughout the world,” he pitched his class in September.
For instance, he informed them of one school in which students recognized the problem of kids without friends so each participant adopted one of the lonely as their own. In another rural Indian school, the students wanted to share the benefits of their education by teaching parents how to write their own names. It became a touching, revealing learning experience for both the parents and the children, he says.
The project his students selected was also marked by the simple parameters of the contest. Working – by design – against short time constraints and without money, the class arrived at what they considered the biggest negative influence over them in their lives – advertising.
Often based on false assumptions and deception, the class had a different idea about how to properly consume Madison Avenue Marketing. “Advertising subtracts from us because it makes us want things or be things that may not be real,” says the video the class produced.
So they decided it was time to get real, stop subtracting and “Advertise for Change — Positive Messages for Positive Change. The 5th graders placed add-vertising posters around the school in which airbrushed models or toys not delivering on promises were not featured. Instead messages such as “Kindness Doesn’t Cost Anything” or “Make Friends,” because they reasoned, says Mr. Guerci, “when you highlight something negative the attention might still end up going in the wrong direction.”
Even so, the campaign itself was executed with a stroke of marketing genius that the real professionals might take note of. One morning the posters just appeared around the school and the effect couldn’t be missed. “It created a buzz by not saying anything,” he says.
By the time the principal announced the project over the PA, the student body followed suit with the formula that the Design for Change Founder had seen many times in the past. “It’s contagious because when they find other people contributing they want to be part of the whole thing,” he relayed the words of Kiran Bir Sethi.
On the other hand, the success of the project didn’t mean the whole thing went off without a hitch. Conceding that a lot of education can be very spoon fed and teacher driven, the children had to learn that Design for Change came under a much different heading. “It took a while for them to really hold onto the idea that, ‘you’re letting us come up with the idea,'” he recalled.
Wading through the challenge, they kept parroting Mr. Guerci’s words back at him as they limbed the learning curve. We know, you be the change you want to see in the world, but what do you think we should do, he recalled the early struggles.
In the end, they obvious got it but more importantly, when the contest begins again next October, a whole different set of footprints are going to be left behind in Pearl River. A lot of the teachers in the school have asked me how they can enter next year, he says. They may have to start early because they have some big shoes to fill.

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