Margot Stern Strom Innovation Grants

For teachers who think outside the box, solve problems, and inspire students.

We’re excited to announce the 12 finalists receiving a $2,500 Margot Stern Strom Innovation Grant!

We asked teachers to send us their best ideas about how they would make “hard empathy” a concrete, tangible experience for young people—and they delivered! We received 129 fantastic projects, which made it difficult to choose only 12. Thank you to everyone who submitted their idea!

Explore this year’s recipients below and watch their video submissions. Stay tuned this fall to see which two teachers are chosen to receive an additional $2,500 in funding to promote their projects with Facing History!


Meet the 2017 Winners

Sarah Cooper of Flintridge Preparatory School - La Canada, CA

Students will transform current events articles into spoken word poetry to influence others to care about an issue of their choosing. Using these “found” poems, they will create a video performing the poem, which are then archived together on a shared video platform. This creates a database of poems that can then be searched by topics (from immigration to health care to the economy, etc.) to increase awareness about an issue and inspire others to take action.

Michael Davies of Lancaster Royal Grammar School - Lancaster, UK

To help educators teach controversial subjects, like the history of Israel and Palestine, this project uses interactive video lessons to tell two parallel narratives. Students are divided into two groups to listen to each narrative and are then brought together to answer increasingly difficult questions about causality, responsibility, and credibility, while forcing them to examine how they absorb and process conflicting viewpoints.

Catherine Epstein of Meridian Academy - Boston, MA

This project creates tangible engagement between students on different ends of the political spectrum by exchanging letters with each other over the course of one school year. The letters are meant to humanize one another through an ongoing correspondence about both their daily lives and their perspectives on the world. This will cultivate a long-term dialogue between students who might not otherwise thoughtfully engage with one another and can help them come to a more nuanced understanding about political difference.

Bayard Nielsen of Notre Dame High School - San Jose, CA

Through a cultural exchange students will be encouraged to speak with their local Spanish-speaking day worker community to hear first-person immigrant stories. They will then take those stories and publish them into a book that is shared throughout the school to give voice to different perspectives from their community. This project gives students the chance to interact with others outside of their normal circles and see people as individuals and not as groups. As they begin to understand different viewpoints, they will feel empathy for those with completely different experiences.

Michael Pitblado of Leahurst College - Kingston, ONT

Using an arts-integrated approach, students will research, write, and illustrate a graphic novel about an upstander from American history of their choosing. Students will gain a deep understanding of the lives and choices of their chosen upstander; learn how to use the techniques of graphic storytelling to express historical understanding; and encourage empathy by generating discussions about the choices people have made in the past and those we face in the present.

Lucas Rapisarda of West Bolivar High School - Rosedale, MS

West Bolivar High School is partnering with the Rosedale Freedom Project, a local nonprofit organization, to implement a restorative justice program that teaches students how to handle and process complex emotions they may have about themselves and others. By providing young adults with academics, arts, and leadership training in a way that emphasizes personal responsibility and empowerment, students will be prepared to handle issues at school and at home in a respectful manner.

Brittany Redgate of San Mateo Middle College - San Mateo, CA

Students at San Mateo Middle College will be introduced to a design challenge that requires them to listen to and define the needs of community members who hold diverse opinions around an issue. This allows students to design an authentic, impactful, actionable, and sustainable solution that takes all viewpoints into consideration. Instead of calling out individual groups or community members, this instead invites everyone to be part of a solution.

Caroline Robinson of Casco Bay High School - Portland, ME

Casco Bay High School will pilot a new model for their “Junior Journey,” an intercultural exchange and learning project centered on documentary filmmaking that crosses the red/blue, urban/rural divide. Students will take a nuanced look at the economic, social, political, and environmental factors impacting towns whose primary industry of paper production has disappeared. They’ll learn how to handle the cultural shifts that come along with rapid economic change and develop the skills, habits, and mindsets they need to engage in and contribute to our diverse and ever-changing world.

Jane Sidey & Corey Pettigrew of Park Tudor School - Indianapolis, IN

This project will use digital simulations that require students to utilize primary source documents and databases to understand the genealogical obstacles facing marginalized families. They will research and piece together families of individuals from history while learning to transcribe and index paper records to contribute to searchable databases, which will allow greater access for those with limited knowledge of their heritage. This exercise will increase students’ research and critical thinking skills, raise community awareness, and help them converse with empathy around issues of heritage and identity.

Michael Soffer, Oak Park and River Forest High School - Oak Park, IL

This project will weave auto-ethnography into American History curriculum to help students understand how their family narratives—and those of their classmates—fit into the larger context. This will improve their research skills, their empathy, and their resilience while creating a lesson plan that is personalized to students’ own histories so they can see themselves in the curriculum.

Nicole Tancioco & Julie Panebianco of James Logan High School - Union City, CA

The goal of this project is to help students go from studying empathy on paper to building empathy within their communities using a five-step service learning project. Students will identify, choose, and research an issue that is important to them. After assessing their research, they will develop an action plan to address that issue, which they will carry out in the community. By taking action in this manner, students will see they are agents of change and realize they can make an impact in their community.

Jackson Westenskow of High Point Academy - Aurora, CO

This project proposes the use of a simple game known as “Empathy Builders,” to help students understand the concept of empathy. By using game-based learning, students can experience a real example of empathy, teachers can identify that moment, and then students can extend their learning through application to other authentic situations. The game can spark conversations about empathy to build a common ground of understanding among peers.

Honorable Mentions

James Adams, University Senior High School - Los Angeles, CA
Lisa Bachmann, Loyola Academy of St. Louis - St. Louis, MI
Amanda Baric, Woburn Collegiate Institute - Scarborough, ONT
Janet Barker, Parras Middle School - Redondo Beach, CA
Emily Bengels, Readington Middle School - Whitehouse, NJ
Cicely Bingener, Beulah Payne Elementary School (6th grade) - Inglewood, CA
Melanie Boulet, New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School - New Orleans, LA
Nicole Burzo-Timmons, Ralph R. McKee High School - Staten Island, NY
Timothy Castner, Nashoba Regional High School - Bolton, MA
Kari Climer, Notre Dame High School - San Jose, CA
Rebecca Coven, The Workshop School - Philadelphia, PA
Glenda Culbertson, Tincher Preparatory School - Long Beach, CA
Jeff Donnelly, Canterbury School of Florida - St. Petersburg, FL
Olivia Grugan, Tyrone Area High School - Tyrone, PA
Adam Hosey, Harrisburg High School SciTech Campus - Harrisburg, PA
Sam Kane, Fenn School - Concord, MA
Rachel Luke, Glenforest Secondary School - Mississauga, ONT
Ariel Maloney and Tanya Trayer, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School - Cambridge, MA
Rita Niblack, Mullen High School - Denver CO
Erica Stein, Temple Beth Tikvah Religious School - Roswell, GA
Shelby Stringer, James Madison Preparatory School - Tempe AZ
Tonya Troske, Amy Biehl High School - Albuquerque, NM
Melani Winter, Raleigh Charter High School - Raleigh, NC

The Margot Stern Strom Innovation Grants are made possible through the generous support of the Fialkow family.

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