Hundreds of families in Zionville, IN, will have a much better Thanksgiving, thanks to FFT Fellow Danielle Wilson and her students at Zionsville Community High School. After she spent two weeks last summer volunteering at a food outreach program in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Danielle inspired her students to undertake a similar service learning project. We’re honored to share their impact and wish for you and your families (of origin or choice) an equally meaningful day.
In my Midwest, suburban high school, students often discuss how they live in a “bubble,” sheltered from major issues and problems of the world and rarely exposed to diverse cultures and perspectives. They have no concept that there are people literally on the other side of the world struggling with the same issues as people in their own community. Hunger is a real issue in our county. The child food insecurity rate is nearly 13% and 41,000 families access local food pantries, according to the Good Samaritan Network of Hamilton County.
I designed my Fund for Teachers fellowship to spend two weeks volunteering in Ho Chi Minh with a food outreach program to better engage students in the fight against hunger in our own community and empower them to become socially-conscience, civic-minded, empathetic young adults.
This was my first experience working in a “soup kitchen” and I spent long days working alongside other volunteers to prepare, cook, and serve sixty poor and disadvantaged families spending time with loved ones in a local hospital. The work and the people made such an impact on me; I wanted to find a way to allow my students to participate in something similar.
Back in Zionsville, my school district is addressing students’ voiced disconnect with a campaign called “Strong in Every Way.” One of the three tenets is aimed at fostering diversity and I am one of three high school teachers on the district committee charged with identifying ways to expand our students’ worldviews. I volunteered to help lead the Social Studies department’s annual Thanksgiving food drive to benefit two local food pantries. We combined ours with another teacher’s drive and are now in our last week of collecting non-perishables and frozen turkeys for three pantries in our community.
But the best part is that students are much more involved this year than they have been in the past. Rather than simply bringing in their cans of green beans and moving on with their days, they are volunteering to help count, organize, transport, and eventually deliver and serve the food. They are seeing beyond their own lives and for many, understanding for the first time that there are people in our very own town who face hunger and food insecurity. Perhaps most importantly, they are feeling empowered to make change and confident that even as teenagers, they can be the agents of that change. And this week of Thanksgiving, they are delivering thousands of items and approximately 100 turkeys to families from two local elementary schools, as well as The Giving Tree Food Pantry in near-by Lebanon.
My fellowship helped me model life-long learning and show students that everyday we all have to keep asking questions, growing as learners (and as humans), and that experiencing new things makes us more empathetic and better global citizens. I am also modeling service. Students should be giving back to their communities and taking on issues that impact not just themselves, but our nation and our world.
Personally, my fellowship made me feel like a professional, to feel valued. I felt like I was learning what I needed to learn to become a better teacher. This was a journey I would never have taken on my own but now that I’ve done it, I feel more confident, more energetic, more excited to be with students every day. I hope to inspire them to travel, to meet new people, and to take risks by stepping outside their comfort zone.
In addition to her time spent volunteering, Danielle also experienced historic sites throughout the country to understand the lasting impact of the Vietnam War on local communities and encourage students to become globally-conscience, action-minded citizens. Danielle holds an undergraduate and graduate degree in US History, but felt she had a gap in teaching global perspectives.
Being able to talk with Vietnamese veterans, as well as the younger generation of Vietnamese, both from the North & South, gave me new insight into the war & its legacy. I have been teaching only one perspective of the story and I also discovered that I was teaching the geography of Vietnam inaccurately; now I can share from first hand experience what the mountains, foliage, rice paddies, and coastal areas look/feel like. Overall, I was humbled.
My students will now conduct oral histories with community and family members about the 1960’s and 1970’s. Not just about the Vietnam War, but also Civil Rights, the Women’s Movement, the Chicano and LGBTQ movements, and the Counterculture. We will then upload these to the National Archives through the Story Corps program.
Mainly, I am now placing more emphasis on perspective, not just with the Vietnam War, but in all the history we study.
- How do other countries view the US? Why?
- How can this help us understand our history?
- What about marginalized people, such as Native peoples? Women? Enslaved Africans? What do their voices have to say?
I have a much deeper understanding of the war now that I have seen where it took place and talked to people who fought on their home ground. A book can only tell you so much, so I will also encourage oral histories and talking with older family members.
Danielle was the 2017 Zionsville Community High School Teacher of the Year, a 2013 Lilly Endowment Grant winner, and has participated in multiple Gilder-Lehrman, TAH, and NEH summer programs. In addition to teaching social studies, this 10-year teaching veteran coaches the school’s Ethics Bowl and sponsors the Military Club and the Spartan Fit Club.