Help Your Students Make A Difference By Making Art

Do you want to do a service learning project with your students but don’t know where to start? Are you overwhelmed with all the choices? Do you secretly fear that the project will take up a significant part of your time or budget? If so, then I have a solution for you.

While we were at NAEA, we were introduced to an organization called Students Rebuild. After speaking with the organization’s manager, Sabrina Urquhart, I was so inspired that I decided to try the program with my students. I couldn’t be happier with the results!

Today I’m sharing how to help your students make a difference by making art.


What is Students Rebuild?

Students Rebuild
Students Rebuild is a non-profit organization started by the Bezos Family Foundation after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Through Students Rebuild, the Bezos Family Foundation partners with other organizations to make an impact on large-scale global issues. In the past, they have partnered to bring water to Tanzania, to help the humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to help in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, to help in Japan after the earthquake and typhoon in Sendai and to help in Haiti after their earthquake. They’re currently partnering with Save the Children to focus on building literacy around the world.

Not only is this organization doing great things but they are doing it all through art. Sabrina quoted Carl Wilkens saying, “When you make something with your hands, it changes the way you feel, which changes the way you think, which changes the way you act.”

“When you make something with your hands, it changes the way you feel, which changes the way you think, which changes the way you act.” – Carl Wilkens


How does Students Rebuild raise money for the causes?

Students Rebuild issues “Challenges” that ask students from across the globe to create artwork. The foundation then donates money to the partnered organization for each artwork created.  For example, the current Literacy Challenge asks for students to create bookmarks.  For each bookmark that is created and mailed in, the Bezos Family Foundation donates $1 (up to $300,000) to Save the Children’s Literacy Boost program.

What are some FAQs about Students Rebuild?

I had a few questions before I signed my students up and here are some of Sabrina’s answers:
Q: How much of a commitment am I making when I sign up a team?
A: You sign up for one Challenge at a time. You can create one artwork, ten artworks or more. During last year’s Water Challenge, one team alone made 60,000 paper beads.
2. How much time do I have to complete the work?
When we launch a new Challenge you have from the first day of the Challenge until the deadline to send in your artwork. Our current Literacy Challenge launched on September 8, 2014 (International Literacy Day) and we will continue to accept bookmarks postmarked by June 5, 2015.
3. Do you have resources available to help me teach my students about the Challenge and the global issue?  
Yes, we have a whole section of our website devoted to educator resources.  You can find all sorts of free resources to help your students learn more about the global concerns that the Challenges aim to help address. You can watch or participate in live webcasts from around the world and even get information about how the issue could impact your own community.
I also asked Sabrina what her favorite thing was about working for Students Rebuild. She said,
“We love opening the boxes of artwork from the teams. We also love getting feedback from students and educators who take the Challenges.  They share how they feel through social media shout outs and emails. Working with Vik Muniz and standing on the National Mall at the culmination of the One Million Bones Challenge have been highlights as well.”

So, how did my students respond to the Challenge?

Student's Rebuild
As I said earlier, I was so glad to take this Challenge on with my students. I shared the program with my after school art students and they were so excited to start helping. Signing up our team took less than 5 minutes, and we quickly had a ton of information emailed to us. Within one day, we were making bookmarks. It was so awesome to see my students creating beautiful artwork while discussing literacy around the world. Several even talked about checking back next year to see what the next Challenge will be.
I can see this being a fantastic project to end your school year. The great thing is if students finish early, they can just keep making bookmarks! Visit the “Find a Challenge” section of the website to learn more!

A huge thank you to Sabrina for answering my questions and letting readers in on some background information about the program. I will definitely continue to partner with Students Rebuild in the future!

Have you worked with Students Rebuild? What did you think?

What other ways do you help students make a difference with art?


Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Jennifer Carlisle

Jennifer Carlisle, a middle school art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. She loves exploring and teaching art through both traditional and digital art mediums.

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