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As a high school English teacher, Brigid Ward has a daily front row seat to witness how much teenagers are glued to their cell phones.
So she issued a challenge to her tenth through twelfth grade classes at Ridley High School: put your phone away — and keep it away — for the duration of class. Surely an impossible task, in this day and age, right?
Not if it was all for a good cause.
This is how the Phone Away Everyday Challenge began in Ward’s classes. For the entire month of April, $1 was pledged toward the HEADstrong Foundation for each day phones were kept stashed away out of sight, with the goal being $30 per student raised. Ward knows how phones are extensions of a teenager’s arms in 2018, so she set a total goal of $400, not knowing if the final total would come anywhere near that amount.
Turns out teenagers are still indeed capable of surprising their elders in a good way, as Ward’s students came close to $600 raised.
“The idea happened on a whim, and I didn’t really know what to expect,” Ward recalled. “I wasn’t sure if the $400 goal would bomb or not. We were reading a book in class about someone who had cancer, and that turned into us talking about the theme of phone addiction and being more connected face-to-face with each other in the moment. We also talked about us connecting to making change and putting ourselves outside of our comfort zones.
“I hyped it up by incentivizing a competition between the classes. We kept track with charts, and the kids got into it more and more. I’m so proud of them. They stepped up to the plate and made a big impact, and it was really cool to see the light bulbs start going off to be able to do something concrete to positively affect other people. Teenagers don’t always see the big picture bring in their own bubbles, but this was an easy thing to see — we pulled up the website, saw the money moving and they knew it was real.”
Ward’s own family, like many others around the globe, has been impacted by cancer. Her sister and mother were both diagnosed in the same year, and Ward’s students, who she has throughout the entire school year, got to know their teacher’s family by writing cards of support and well-wishing. The more Ward conversed with her students about the universality of cancer, the more she realized their own families had also been turned upside down by the disease.
“We get very close,” she said. “I discuss my life with them, and they discuss theirs with me, so there was real empathy there on both sides. I teach English, but one of my main goals is character education. Talking about it is one thing, but giving them chances to be positive and successful, that’s what makes a difference. It raises their confidence, and I want them to walk away from this challenge and say that they did it.
Ward said she and her holdover students into the next school year are already excited about the possibility of doing a similar campaign in the future. She doesn’t know what or when exactly, but the brainstorming has already begun.
“I definitely want to do it again,” Ward said. “Especially after seeing where this went. It was easier than I thought it would be, and it totally beat my expectations.”
The HEADstrong Foundation™ is a 501(c)3 committed to improving lives affected by cancer, founded by the late Nicholas “HEAD” Colleluori. The non-profit organization plays a vital role as a direct resource to families overcome by the hardships of cancer. HEADstrong provides a variety of services, which range from financial assistance to funding capital projects to peer mentorship and, most notably, HEADstrong operates Nick’s House™, a guest family home providing more than 2,555 nights of complimentary lodging and support to families displaced in the pursuit of life-saving cancer treatment. Today, Nick’s vision is being fulfilled through the relentless efforts of his family, athletes and supporters across the country uniting in the fight against cancer. For more information on the HEADstrong Foundation and how to donate, host a fundraiser or volunteer, please visit www.HEADstrong.org.