12 Small Steps for a Better World—Student Challenge! Deadline: February 17

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.
- William James

To start the new year, WKCD has devised a challenge—our own version of New Year's resolutions. We are inviting students and teachers (across the globe) to create their own unique list of small steps for a better world. "Do your little bit of good where you are," Desmond Tutu reminds us. "It's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world."

Here are the particulars.

(1) We're looking for a final product that combines your top 12 small steps (e.g., "Say hello to people you meet on the street—most of all, those down on their luck," "Turn off lights") and a visual that captures elements or the essence of your list. The visual could be a photograph, a drawing, word art, and more—whatever seems compelling.
(2) We intend for this to be a class project, with every student contributing something. Students in grades 7 through 12 are eligible.
(3) We welcome out-of-the-box thinking!
(4) We will award 100 USD to the most striking entries. We will publish a collection of small steps lists, with their images, on WKCD.org.

Deadline: February 17, 2017

Submission guidelines: The final product should be submitted to WKCD (info@wkcd.org) as an electronic attachment: a word document with your list and the corresponding image. The images should be approximately 400-600 pixels wide and/or high with a minimum resolution of 72. Be sure to include the name of the school or program, where it's located, an email address, and the students' grade level.

Getting started: We encourage you to approach this challenge in whatever way best meets your style and circumstances. To prime the pump, we've included a short class experience that introduces students to inspiring quotes about the power of social actions. Click here for the activity and quotes.

Questions: Write us at info@wkcd.org.

Help us tap the wisdom and imagination of youth eager to flex their mind and soul.

WKCD home page


Oakland Students Design Posters and Postcards About Documented and Undocumented Immigrant Rights
Do undocumented workers have the same rights to workers’ compensation and overtime as documented immigrants and citizens? Should you ever tell the police your immigration status? Does every child in the U.S. have the right to a public education? These are a few of the many questions that 11th grade students at Oakland International High School have been asking about their rights in the United States. After becoming experts in their rights, the students designed posters and wallet guides as tools to spread the knowledge. (Click here to see PDF of postcards and posters. For more information or to obtain free copies of the postcards and posters, write: lauren.markham@ousd.org.)

Meet The New York City High School Students Organizing Against Trump
The Women's Marches following the Inauguration included a lot of young children, many in strollers or on a parent's shoulders. But what do these kids grow up to be? It's not always the case, but at least some of them might grow up to be the kinds of high school kids who call Congress and ask strangers to send postcards in support of reproductive rights to their representatives, like the new organizing group Coalition Z did on last week.

Red Meets Blue: How Students Can Find Common Ground in Trump’s America
In the wake of Trump’s election in November, reports of derogatory language, harassment and even assault have increased substantially in America’s schools, according to a national survey of more than 10,000 educators. In the face of this tumult, numerous groups are working to equip student leaders to help their classmates find common ground in an increasingly polarized climate.

High School Students Stage anti-Trump Administration Protests
Since Inauguration Day, stories about high school students speaking out against the new administration are making local headlines. In Evanston, Illinois, for example, hundreds of Evanston Township High School students chanting, "Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go," marched out of class last week for a rally in downtown Evanston. Local police blocked off streets and escorted the throng of marchers.



For more than a decade, WKCD has supported students and teachers as they gather and share the stories of immigrants in their community—along with their own experiences as young refugees and immigrants. Their voices, filled with hardship, humility, and hope, seem more compelling than ever.

Forty-Cent Tip: Stories of New York City's Immigrant Workers
Ten years ago, WKCD published a remarkable book by students at three NYC international high schools. Like their subjects, the youth were all newcomers to America. Coached by their teachers and equipped with voice recorders and digital cameras, they spent a year documenting the lives of immigrant workers in their own neighborhoods. An Afghani taxi driver, a Chinese manicurist, a laundromat worker from Indonesia—these were among the immigrant workers who told their stories of struggle to Forty-Cent Tip's teenaged authors.


Maine Students Document the Human Rights Stories of Local Immigrants
In 2007, when humanities teacher Susan McCray challenged her students at Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine to become human rights documentarians, they were stepping into the unknown. They ended up spending the year researching human rights crises around the globe, as well as interviewing and photographing immigrants from places like Somalia, Sudan, and the Balkans, among others, who now live in Portland. Note: On January 30, 2017, 300 students at Cascco Bay High School marched in solidarity with four classmates who had been targeted in a hate crime.


The Legacy of Cesar Chavez: Chicago Students Gather Immigrant Stories
Civil rights activist Cesar Chavez once said, "The end of all education should surely be service to others." Several years ago, high school students around the country participated in a month of service learning projects in his honor. In Chicago, students first learned about Chavez's legacy and immigrants' and workers' rights and then interviewed immigrants preparing for their citizenship exams. The students, many immigrants themselves, recorded and broadcasted their stories on Chicago's Radio Arte.

Home? Teen Refugees and Immigrants Explore Their Tucson
Amidst Trump's immigration executive orders, Tucson, Arizona recently announced its determination to remain "immigrant friendly." Ten years ago, students in Julie Kasper's ESL classes at Catalina Magnet High School in Tucson, Arizona—all refugees and immigrants—explored the concept of "Home" through photography and writing. Coached by photographer Josh Schachter, they captured daily life in their new neighborhoods—a boy sitting alone outside his house, a Sudanese family eating dinner, a neighbor sleeping after a hard day's work.

Immigrant Students Use Cartoons to Share Their Journeys
At Oakland International High School, new students arrive each week. For many, OIHS is their first school in the United States. Refuges of violence, war, and poverty, each of these students has a story. Not all of them have a way of communicating it. A few years ago, OIHS art teacher Thi Bui invited students to tell their immigration story in the form of a comic. Each of the 23 comics—stories of loss and hope—answers the question, "Who am I?" and, collectively, the question "Who are we?" Their book will break your heart.


For 15 years, from 2001 to 2016, WKCD reached far and wide to document and broadcast the voices and vision of the next generation, supported by the adult allies in and outside school that these youth counted on. We began with a determination to share "feature stories" about what we called "powerful learning with public purpose." Over the years, we produced more than 300 of these stories, with generous funding from a host of foundations who shared our commitment to youth as knowledge creators and citizens. For a directory of these stories, click here. You can also enter key words in the search box at the top left of this and every page.

Early on, we also became involved in multi-year projects targeted at youth learning and perspectives: going to college when you are the first in the family to go, the conditions of learning that help students thrive, diversity, social and emotion learning, global understanding, service learning, school reform, and more. Below are descriptions and links to these diverse collections.

The left column of this homepage includes quick links to many of these collections, along with links to other WKCD websites and to a range of small WKCD publications. The right column connects to WKCD's nonprofit publshing arm, Next Generation Press, and its 17 titles with youth as co-authors.

While WKCD continues to take on a small number of discrete, new projects—like creating an advisory curriculum built on social and emotional learning—we are, by and large, not adding to the collections described below. They remain vital, we believe.

College Matters: Supporting Low-Income and First Generation Students
What does it take to get to college, especially if you are the first in your family to go? What stands in the way? What supports do students need? For more than a decade, WKCD has turned to first-generation and low-income students around the country for advice on how to make it to college and succeed once there. We've then passed this advice on to those following in their footsteps and the parents, teachers, and counselors who guide them. Our "First in the Family" initiative, a collaboration with Lumina Foundation for Education, includes websites, multimedia, downloads, feature stories and special research projects with high school and college students as partners. Our First in the Family: Your High School Years and First in the Family: Your College Years have sold more than 200,000 copies.

Global Youth Voices
In 2005, WKCD's Barbara Cervone traveled to a small village in Tanzania to work with secondary students on creating a photo essay about life there. Since then, we've supported more than two dozen photo journalism projects with youth on four contintents, some as part of a multi-year collaboration with Adobe Youth Voices. The youth contributing to our Global Youth Voices collection has included affluent teens in Beijing along with the sons and daughters of coffee farmers in rural Ethiopia; young Burmese refugees in a Bangladesh border camp along with university students in cities across Hungary. They remind us of the complexities of culture and politics—and how they infuse what we value, what we take for granted, and what amazes us.

Great American Dreaming
As we saw in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. immigration has become a tinder box, with raw emotions and fear making civil discourse near impossible and mass deportation thinkable. Almost every community in the U.S. has become a home to new immigrants, with the promise and challenges they bring. One way to engage students in this critical debate is to have them gather the stories (and images) of immigrants near at hand. WKCD learned this when we coached and then published such work by New York City students in our photo essay book Forty-Cent Tip: Stories of New York City Immigrant Workers (2006). Great America Dreaming also includes stories, photoessays, monologues, and cartoon narratives about the immigrant experience produced by high school students in Chicago, Tucson, Oakland, and Casco, Maine.

How Youth Learn
How do youth learn best in the high school years? What “conditions of learning” help students thrive? In 2013, WKCD developed a special website to capture decades of research on adolescent learning, along with the results of our own investigations. We found that good learning involves direct experience, especially deep immersion in a consequential activity. Motivation is strongest when it emerges from the young person’s prior knowledge and interests, when it springs from the task itself, and when it is driven by a desire for mastery and by identification with others who do it well. Learning flourishes when it is social; when it occurs as a shared activity within meaningful relationships; and when it allows for increasingly responsible participation. Our How Youth Learn website includes research summaries, student voices, exemplary practices, and educator resources

Just Listen!
It’s easy for educators to make assumptions about how their students experience school—but they often miss the mark. That’s what sparked WKCD’s 2012 Just Listen series of video clips (200 in all), in which high school students speak directly to viewers about teaching and learning. Averaging one minute in length, they convey kids’ thinking in a way that is easy to share and talk about with others. The videos, supported by MetLife Foundation, show that what young people say they want for themselves aligns closely with what we say we want for them: stimulating classes; good relationships with their teachers; appropriate learning challenges, success in high school, college, and beyond.

In Our Global Village
In 2007, after the publication of the photo essay book In Our Village: Kambi ya Simba Through the Eyes of Its Youth, WKCD's Barbara Cervone teamed up with international service learning consultant Cathryn B. Kaye to invite young people across the globe to document daily life in the places they call home. In the years since, youth ages 8 to 19—from North Hollywood to New Orleans, from the jungles of Nepal to San Francisco's Tenderloin district—have gathered the stories that mean the most to them. The In Our Global Village program now includes close to 60 photo essay books, and the program continues to grow. We've created a "how-to" manual for teachers, along with a virtual library that allows readers to flip many of these books.

Mentors that Matter
Who are the significant adults in the lives of teenagers, beyond the home and classroom? How do they reach out to youth, and why? More than a decade ago, youth across the nation gave their answers, as they interviewed, photographed, and publicly honored Mentors That Matter in four cities (Chicago, Providence, San Francisco, and Tampa). They nominated people from all walks of life—artists, coaches, public officials, even a school bus driver and a hair stylist—who show that they care about “other people’s children.” In collaboration with MetLife Foundation, the WKCD initiative developed literacy, communication, and photography skills in some 200 students who participated. It also underscored how much young people value adults who reach out to share time and expertise with them.

Practice Project
In 2009, WKCD's Kathleen Cushman posed the question "What does it take to get really good at something?" to over 200 young people across the nation, inviting them to become researchers of their own learning. Starting with the things they already knew and could do well, they analyzed the process that all learners go through when they take up new things and work toward mastery. This onging dialogue soon became a body of work we called the Practice Project — including our book Fires in the Mind, in which adolescent students talk about what motivates them to work hard at a challenge. “Getting good” was how these young collaborators refered to the journey toward mastery.

Service Learning
Too often we hear how “kids today” simply don’t make the grade. When teens do manage to wrest praise from adults, it is often for what they don’t do—for toeing the line—rather than for the positive things they can do. From the start, WKCD aimed to spread a more capacious view of “what kids can do”—a vision that made room for real-world problem solving, teamwork, character and citizenship, learning from mistakes, creativity, social justice, and contribution. Service learning rovides a wealth of exemplars of the sort of powerful learning with public purpose that WKCD has championed. Here is a directory of feature stories about service learning produced by WKCD over the years.

Social and Emotional Learning
What would it take to weave social and emotional learning (SEL) into the daily fabric of our nation’s high schools? In 2013 and 2014, with support from the NoVo Foundation, WKCD studied effective practices in five American high schools that, by their own design, put social-emotional learning at their core. We created multimedia to capture student voices in these schools and we assembled selected SEL resources for educators. In an Education Week commentary, we summarized the implications for public high school education. We gathered our findings and stories in Belonging and Becoming: The Power of Social and Emotional Learning in High School (Harvard Education Press, 2015).

More recently, WKCD published a monthly feature called Short Workouts for Social-Emotional Learning, geared towards middle and high school students. May 2016 | April 2016 | March 2016 | February 2016 | January 2016 | December 2016

Student-Centered Learning
What does teaching look like when it truly centers on the student’s learning needs? As one of nine research teams for Students at the Center, an initiative by Jobs for the Future and the Nellie Mae Foundation for Education, WKCD's Barbara Cervone and Kathleen Cushman spent a year interviewing and observing teachers, students, and administrators in six diverse middle and high schools, experienced in student-centered learning. Despite their differences, the schools all shared a common foundation of practice. Student-centered learning—where adolescents exercise both choice and responsibility—demands a new approach to teaching, which involves facilitating and coaching more than direct instruction. Student-centered teachers develop a fresh relationship to their craft, playing multiple roles and always learning new skills.

Students as Allies in School Reform
The refrains are familiar. School is boring, students complain. It's hard to see a connection between what we're taught and the real world. Students are unprepared, teachers say. Too much of teaching is really just classroom management. What would it take for students to become stakeholders not just in their own success but also in that of their teachers and schools? In 2003-2004, with support from MetLife Foundation, WKCD launched its "Students as Allies in School Reform" initiative. In five cities, we helped students and teachers conduct survey research about their own schools and supported dialogue and constructive action around their research results. Our surveys have been downloaded more than 200,000 times from WKCD.org—by teachers, education students in college and graduate school, and student groups.

Student Research for Action
From 2003–2006, WKCD had the opportunity to help students and teachers nationwide to conduct ambitious student “action research” projects targeting critical education and community issues. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided the financial support. The initiative exemplified two of WKCD's core beliefs: that what happens inside a school's walls should connect to the world outside and that young people have the capacity to reflect, analyze, and create new knowledge that can then improve their schools and communities. Over the course of three years, WKCD awarded 49 grants, in amounts ranging from $500 to $4,750, to a total of 52 individual schools in 17 states. The products of the students' research—several books, videos, reports, new programs, surveys, powerpoints—still attract attention, more than a decade later.

Student/Youth Voice
When WKCD embraced student voice as part of our guiding principles in 2001, the idea that youth should be welcomed as crucial investors in improving their schools and communities had few advocates. The research on the power of student engagement was commensurately sparse. In contrast, WKCD set out to celebrate and support youth as collaborators in our books and other publications (e.g., our “Fires” series); in survey projects nationwide; in more than 75 grants to student research groups across the globe; and in the feature stories we produced for this website. We learned that meaningful student voice must: be inclusive, be woven into the daily fabric of school, target substantive issues, involve asking and listening by all parties, and lead to constructive action.

Voices from the Middle Grades
What do students in the middle grades most need from their teachers? WKCD offered their answers in a sequel to our groundbreaking book Fires in the Bathroom—this time, listening to the voices of early adolescents. Talking in depth with 40 students in middle grades around the country, WKCD’s Kathleen Cushman asked them questions like: What helps you want to try hard in school—or keeps you from doing so? How can your teachers help you deal with social issues and pressures you face? When it comes to your parents, what do teachers need to know and do? How can teachers prepare you for the transition to high school? To interpret their answers, Cushman teamed with Laura Rogers, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University who worked in middle schools for 13 years.




"There's a radical—and wonderful—new idea here . . . that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people's ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world." - Deborah Meier, educator



and the power of social-emotional learning



Helping your child succeed

English and Spanish






. . . blog by Kathleen Cushman


. . . research, resources & more


. . . advice about college


. . . student action research


. . . Kambi ya Simba, Tanzania




College Matters

Global Youth Voices

Great American Dreaming

How Youth Learn

In Our Global Village

Just Listen!

Mentors That Matter

Practice Project

Service Learning

Social-Emotional Learning

Student-Centered Learning

Students as Allies in School

Student Research for Action

Student/Youth Voice

Voices from the Middle Grades

Youth in Policy: Civics2

Youth on the Trail 2012




A Guide to Creating Teen-
Adult Public Forums

Cultural Conversations through Creative Writing

Documenting Immigration Stories

First Ask, Then Listen: How Your
Students Can Help You Teach
Them Better

Making Writing Essential to
Teen Lives

Profiles of Politically Active Youth

Queer Youth Advice for Educators

SAT Bronx

Teachers at Work: Six Exemplars of Everyday Practice




Ned's Gr8 8: An Insider's Guide to the Teenage Brain


Who We Are: First-Generation College Students Speak Out


Hear Us Out: Seattle Students Talk About Going to College




Growth Mindset

Character and Grit

Powerful Learning

Pushing Past Fear

Einstein Says


Six Ted Talks for the New Year



have a story for wkcd?

Want to bring public attention
to your work? WKCD invites
story ideas from youth and
educators worldwide.

Write to us >»







"The first object of any act of learning, over and beyond the pleasure it may give, is that it should serve us in the future. Learning should not only take us somewhere; it should allow us later to go further more easily."
- Theodore R. Sizer,
educator (1932-2009)




"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."
- William Butler Yeats




"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education."
- Martin Luther King






Next Generation Press







Forty-Cent Tip

hip deep







Preview and order from our current list of 16 titles >>


Harvard Education Press



Fires in the Mind

Fires in the Bathroom

Fires in the Middle School Bathroom