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Global Education

Piney Creek’s Unique Approach to the SDGs

Kindness as a goal

At the 4th Annual Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) Learning Conference, Maggie Murphy made a confession: “Don’t tell the UN we added a goal.” She is referring to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the framework she has been using to help her 7th- and 8th-grade students find their voices as global citizens who can change the world. And the goal she and her class added? Kindness.

Maggie Murphy teaches 7th and 8th graders at Piney Creek School, located in a tiny community nestled in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Piney Creek is one of two schools in Alleghany County that recently brought global learning to their community. Maggie and her students have hit the ground running.

The school’s global program launched in August 2018. As part of the school’s training and onboarding process, we introduced our global citizenship framework alongside the UN SDGs as a way for Piney Creek’s teachers to integrate action-based global learning into their curriculum.

Project-based learning

Each of Maggie’s 40 7th and 8th graders can recite the 17 SDGs. What really matters, though, is that each of them has designed their own project to address these goals. When I visited Maggie’s 8th-grade class recently, her students could barely contain their enthusiasm for the work they have been doing. Maggie asked who wanted to share their project first, and several eager hands shot up. I got to hear everyone’s stories. Here are a few of them, with the SDG goal they align to:

  • Shayna solicited funds from the community to raise awareness about chiari, a rare genetic disease that affects her family (SDG 3, Good Health and Well-Being).
  • Isabella raised over $1000 to send 60 holiday care packages to soldiers deployed around the world (SDG 16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions).
  • Karol raised money and assembled gift baskets for 51 patients at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, in memory of her 9-month-old niece, Liddy. (SDG 3, Good Health and Well-Being).
  • Cody is building a community garden for Piney Creek residents (SDG 2, Zero Hunger).
  • Garrett and Kevin are designing a water filtration system to provide cheap, clean drinking water (SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation).
  • Camille created a health resources directory for the community in response to the opioid epidemic. (SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities).
  • Robbie collected food items to donate to the Mountain Valley Hospice, which provided end-of-life care to his great grandmother (SDG 2, Zero Hunger).

These projects provided interdisciplinary, standards-based learning opportunities for Maggie’s students. In addition to analyzing and creating informational texts, students used persuasive writing and math skills to fund-raise. They developed marketing and social media skills to promote their causes. Just as important as these skills, though, is the impact these students have had on their community.

Community-wide impact

Maggie’s students and I talked about the multiplier effect that their projects are already having in their community. In a place like Alleghany County, with a population of only 11,031 residents, the contributions of Piney Creek’s students are not insignificant, and they will continue to have an impact on their community and beyond. 13-year old Phoebe found this saying, which has become the class motto: “If many little people in many little places do many little things, they will change the face of the earth.”

So, who can blame Maggie for adding a Sustainable Development Goal? Kindness is woven into each and every project her students developed. When I asked her class what they would say to other kids who were considering whether or not to incorporate the SDGs into their learning, 13-year-old Megan summed it up: “If you can make the world a better place, why not do it?”

Maggie Murphy is a recent recipient of the 2019 Participate Teacher of the Year award for her hard work and commitment to teaching her students the SDGs and global citizenship framework.