In March 2020, pre-COVID, I launched an 8 week session of my brand new program – the Upstanders Academy. I rented a room at the church up the street from my house and an easy walk from the school and I brought together a group of 13 kids – ages 8-13. The plan was to meet once a week, after school, to work on community-connected passion projects that would make the world a better place. We were going to talk about important social issues and come up with actions the kids wanted to take to help make things better.

My City Councillor, Jean Cloutier, read about this in my newsletter and reached out to see if he could come and observe a session – because he is super supportive of World-Changing Kids and he thought that this program sounded like a great idea. I told him that I would love to have him come to speak with the kids, seeing as how he is our City Councillor. I thought that it would be such an amazing experience for these kids to get to chat with an elected official in such an intimate space. Jean agreed to attend. I told him that I had no idea what we should expect, since I was making this all up as I went, but that maybe he should plan for about 15 minutes of talking and then we would see if there were any questions.

Jean showed up to our first meeting, we set the tables and chairs up in a circle and we just jumped right in. Jean explained a bit about what he does and then the kids started asking questions. It was amazing! They asked him the widest range of questions possible and the conversation covered such topics as – veganism vs. vegetarianism vs. 100 mile diet vs. factory farming; renewable energy vs. nuclear energy; then one child asked why we have an International Women’s Day and another child jumped in to answer before Jean even could! The kids were so engaged and inspired to contribute to the conversation that they started getting upset that I was not giving them the floor to talk in the correct order as when they were putting up their hands, so we decided to write their names on the flip chart as soon as their hands went up and then we democratically went down the list of names in order.

Now this session was in early March – two weeks before we were all sent home due to the pandemic. But two of the awesome boys were already noticing that some people were wearing the disposable masks, and they could see where this was going. They could see that this was going to create an unacceptable amount of waste – as these masks are not recyclable or biodegradable. So they showed up to the next week’s session with cheese cloth and string to make a prototype of a mask that would be biodegradable!

But back to this first session with Jean … the kids talked with Jean for the full hour. Jean and I were both blown away by the engagement and interest and insights from the kids. I realized from this that I was on to something powerful. Kids are hungry for these wide-open, unscripted conversations with real community leaders on real social justice topics. They just needed the space to have these conversations. And that is what I sort of accidentally created for them.

After two weeks of meeting in person, we got sent home because of COVID. Back then, I had never used Zoom, but I asked the parents if they wanted to try to finish the next 6 weeks of the session online – or at least run it online until we could get back together in person! All the parents and kids agreed. So we moved online and we figured it out together. And again, the kids completely exceeded my expectations. I don’t know that I could have moved to an online format when I was their age – I don’t know that I would have had that confidence. These kids are amazing.

Once online, we learned that this actually provided us with an amazing opportunity to interview experts from around world. We learned that we could create content from these interviews that we could then share with others on our World-Changing Kids YouTube Channel. We learned that we could make videos and online content from our experiences that allowed these kids to share their voices and their truths with the world – showing these kids that they have a voice and important things to say and that they deserve a seat at any table that they choose to sit at, empowering them to believe that they have the power to make a difference now – not just in the future, but right now.

This whole experience has been surreal – we have created something amazing together during this pandemic – and truly, it has been led by the kids. They told me what they were interested in and I brought people together to help them learn more. We found a way, together, to make online learning work spectacularly.

Here is a list of some of my favourite moments – with links to the videos:

1. New Solar Panels, Made From Food Waste, That Will Change the World – with Carvey Ehren Maigue

2. Solving Food Waste & Food Insecurity in Our Communities with Simple Kindness & a Sharing Mentality

3. Isolation – A Cody Coyote and World-Changing Kids Collaboration – A hip hop song written and recorded by the kids about their experiences during the pandemic

4. Interview with Alida from The Growcer (Part 1): Social Entrepreneurship & Having a Positive Impact

5. Interview with Gever Tulley (Part 1): Maybe Adults Don’t Give Kids Enough Credit

6. Interview with Georgia from Wyatt & Jack (Part 1): Turning Plastic Waste into Bags and Accessories

7. Interview with Meera Jain the Ecoblogger (Part 1): Why She Lives Zero-Waste and a Toothpaste Recipe

8. 10 Actions You Can Take To Help Our Planet: An Environmental Activism Video in Honour of Earth Day

9. Interview with Ryan from Ryan’s Well (Part 1): How It All Started

10. Helping Shadow Ottawa Fill 100 Happy Bags For Their Street Friends – Activism to End Homelessness