What If Middle Schoolers Were Encouraged to Solve Problems? TomTod Ideas: Stark County Schools “Middle schoolers are often a lost generation. There are many early childhood programs and activities for older kids, but those magical years of early adolescence can be ignored. Kids this age are powered by wondrous neurons of thoughts, feelings, and imagination. They have so much to contribute. TomTod Ideas enters into this space and empowers middle schoolers to explore the possibilities, take what they learn and change their world.” - Joel Daniel Harris, Executive Dreamer, TomTod Ideas
On a springtime visit to Jason Pigott’s
7th grade social studies classroom at Early College Academy in Canton students were scripting newscasts; planning a fundraiser; designing infomercials; writing newspaper articles; and illustrating a graphic book all to inform their community about the Syrian refugee crisis. Their projects are the culmination of a yearlong study of Media Literacy and the Common Good, a topic they explored under the direction of instructors from TomTod Ideas. After researching and discussing the issue, the students felt empowered to find ways to use media to bring an awareness of the crisis to others. TomTod Ideas recognizes that the world we live in has injustices within it, explains Joel Daniel Harris, Executive
“Dreamer” of TomTod Ideas (Tomorrow’s Ideas from Today’s Middle Schoolers), a non-profit organization that inspires middle school students to act as positive agents of change in their communities. TomTod instructors work with students both in and out of school to “dream up” and then follow through on ideas designed to serve the common good. Through that work, they require students to think critically, process a wide scope of learning, and create collaborative solutions. “All of our programs center around the concept of ‘What If?’ as we encourage students to imagine the world as it could be,” Mr. Harris explains. This past year, with funding from the Martha Holden Jennings Founda-
Mr. Harris helps guide students as they review what they’ve learned about the Syrian refugees for their final project.
tion, TomTod was able to immerse 240 students in three Stark County middle schools in its in-school program, What If 101. During weekly sessions, instructors helped students identify, research and develop possible solutions to both local and global issues. They led students through an ideation process and instilled within them the belief that their ideas can make a difference.
“The goal with all TomTod programming is to explore ideas and imagination for the benefit of the common good,” says Mr. Harris, who founded TomTod to work exclusively with middle school students. During his previous work as a youth pastor, Mr. Harris recognized that middle schoolers have incredible potential that often goes untapped. “They have energy, imagination, and cognitive abilities that are blossoming; but they don’t have many outlets,” he remarks. “Too often adults run away from this age group, but really, we ought to be running toward them because it’s such a critical time in someone’s life. It’s when you are creating decision-making pathways in the brain, forming your identity, figuring out who you are and how you are going to act, and how you are going to put that identity into motion.” “TomTod believes in middle schoolers,” says Amy Lint, principal, Early College Academy at Souers Middle School in Canton, who welcomed TomTod instructors into her school each Friday to work with 150 7th grade students. “They believe that middle school students have important things to say and that they can do important things. And that’s what we believe as well.” Each class of students who work with TomTod tackles an issue relevant to continued on p. 14
MARTHA HOLDEN JENNINGS FOUNDATION
What If Middle Schoolers Were Encouraged to Solve Problems?