Woodland class spawns grassroots group

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[wpaudio url=”http://www.mycitizensnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/woodland-for-women-worldwide.mp3″ text=”Woodland for Women Worldwide”]

BEACON FALLS — As Woodland Regional High School social studies teacher Deb Flaherty prepared for the inaugural semester of a course entitled contemporary world issues, she pondered extensively what the first unit ought to cover. Her students are, after all, teenagers, and a conservative approach might have been to open with a topic like globalization or climate change.

Instead, Flaherty elected to examine the darkest hollows of human depravity.

“I kind of wanted to come out with something that was going to curriculum right away, make a big splash to start,” she said. “So it was a little nerve-racking to start with something as difficult to learn about as human trafficking … it’s something that you have to tread on carefully to teach, but at the same time, you can only sugarcoat so much. And I’ll tell you the response I got from students was … it blew me away.”

Only a year and a half ago, CWI was merely a vision of the school’s social studies department chair, Lisa Olivere. In the fall of 2008, she pitched the course to the Region 16 Board of Education, and by fall 2009, 60 students were enrolled in three sections.

Sarah Hughes, a student leader of Woodland for Women Worldwide, and Region 16 Board of Education member Donna Cullen listen to the organization's co-founder, Lisa Olivere, during a school board meeting Wednesday at Long River Middle School.
Sara Hughes, a student leader of Woodland for Women Worldwide, and Region 16 Board of Education member Donna Cullen listen to the organization's co-founder, Lisa Olivere, during a school board meeting Wednesday at Long River Middle School.

Wednesday at Long River Middle School, Olivere again spoke to the school board, along with Flaherty, this time not to propose the class but to praise it. Students were so moved by their studies that they inspired the two faculty members to co-found an organization called Woodland for Women Worldwide.

“It’s not a girls-only club,” Olivere explained, “but our mission is to help women in developing countries improve their lives and their communities. You’ve heard of trickle-down economics—this is kind of the reverse of that.”

“The byproduct [of the course] that I never could have expected was the students coming to us and saying, ‘What can we do about it?’” Flaherty added. “So not only were they seeking this class to learn about these things, now they wanted an avenue to do something about it.”

After a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in January, for instance, Woodland for Women Worldwide helped orchestrate a school fundraiser, alternately known as Hair for Haiti and Beards for Bucks. Male faculty grew facial hair, and students cast $1 votes for their favorite whiskers. The weeks-long event yielded $715 for the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

Another WWW initiative is the establishment of two scholarships: One is to help a Woodland girl attend a leadership conference, and the other is for any WRHS graduate planning to volunteer in a developing country.

And on May 22, the organization will hold a five-kilometer run to benefit the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) and the Somaly Mam Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to modern-day slavery.

Sara Hughes, a WWW student leader, calls the group an opportunity to put into action the concepts discussed in the classroom.

“Woodland is filled with students that want to do something,” she said. “It’s very unique that you get an entire school that wants to get involved, that wants to make a difference. This organization actually gave us a way to do that. It’s not just a bunch of kids sitting around saying, ‘We could do this’ or ‘We could do that’ or ‘We should do this.’ It’s saying, ‘How can we actually make this possible?’”

BOE Treasurer Sheryl Feducia, a regular attendee of the group’s bimonthly meetings, applauded the efforts of Woodland for Women Worldwide and testified to the impact contemporary world issues and the school’s other globally conscious offerings leave on students. She says her own daughter, a Woodland junior, is shy and usually answers questions about school with simple “goods” and “OKs.”

“But these classes are the classes she comes home and talks about,” Feducia said, “and it’s just amazing what dialogue we have.”

To register for Woodland for Women Worldwide’s 5k or to learn more about the group, visit www.woodlandforwomenworldwide.org.