Empathy Warrior Intersession© at Samaritan House designed by Cynthia Tognotti from UpSkill

Facilitated opportunity for D.tech High School students to design empathy game teaching 3rd and 4th graders empathy regarding homelessness

Photo of Cynthia Blair Tognotti

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During the Empathy Warrior Intersession D.tech students are creating products to be used to teach third and fourth grade students how to develop empathy concerning the issues of poverty and homelessness. These products (a game, presentation and parent guide on how to talk with kids about poverty and homelessness) are being designed for Samaritan House. The students are utilizing their "Design Thinking" skills to prototype the products and will present the prototypes today at Samaritan House and then at D.tech. They are amazing students making a difference! The entire class has chosen to continue their work - they are designing passion projects and portfolio pieces all centered around supporting Samaritan House. They will create internships to continue their work.

As a college counselor and consultant I am a firm believer in community service. There is nothing quite like volunteering to help teens mature and discover themselves. The most important step in choosing a "college that fits" is first discovering who you are, how you learn, what you like and what you want. When students are clear on these points, choosing a school becomes a journey of joy.  I help students and families work together to find the college or university that will best fit their interests and criteria, challenge them and prepare them for life. 

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe what you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research. (Ex: Good advisors make a difference.)

Homelessness affects everyone and kids can make a difference both directly and teaching their parents how to talk about homelessness and poverty with their kids. Kids are amazing!


Join the conversation:

Photo of Susie Kameny

Where is the PDF of the empathy warrior? Do you have a list of facilitator questions?

Photo of Lori Corcoran

Cynthia, my colleague Mary Ruskey and I would love to connect with you to learn more about what your studentire are doing. Our Sophomore students are also working on IMPACT projects that are aimed at helping Philadelphia's homeless population. I am wondering if we might be able to virtually connect our kids so that they could share their accomplishments.

Photo of Cynthia Blair Tognotti

Hi Lori,
I would love to connect. My cell is 650-271-1900. Please give me a call, I am in my office most mornings (writing). March 21-April 1st is my next intersession so I'm booked from 7:30-4 each day. 

Photo of Lori Corcoran

Sounds great-I will try to give you a call on Monday or Tuesday around 11:30 if that works for you.

Photo of Lori Corcoran

Hi Cynthia,

I have a meeting tomorrow, but will reach on Wednesday morning. I am in Philadelphia, PA. Not sure if you are located on the West Coast and /or which timezone. If you let me know I will plan to call 11:00 am your time on Wed.

Photo of Dan Ryder

This is spurring all sorts of ideas and notions for me -- particular around the idea of creating a product and a brand intended to instruct, inform, enlight and compel to action all at once.

We often hear slogans and catch phrases aimed at adolescents, but I wonder how many of them truly catch on.  It seems like this approach to younger students and foster the thinking early on  . . that's noble.

Here's another audience though: adults.  I am thinking about how powerful the Humans Right Campaign equality logo works.   I'm thinking about ribbon campaigns and Austism Speaks.   I'm wondering about the idea of empathy warrior -- or something tailored to #reachwayhigher (warrior)  that adults could rally around . . . use as identifier publically and continues also to remind us to take action . . . 

Thanks for this Sunday night thinkfest you've spurred!

Photo of Cynthia Blair Tognotti

Hi Dan,
Part of the intersession involved the students creating a Parent Guide - How To Talk To Your Kids About Homelessness and Poverty. To write this we spent 2 days on just how they want their
parents to talk with them and used this as the foundation. They prototyped an 8 page pamphlet, tested it and presented it to the non-profit board and then to the school parents and peers. The presentation opened a fascinating conversation with most parents agreeing that when they think of things they need to discuss with their kids these subjects aren't on the radar. The stories the kids shared about meeting the clients were the most powerful - wow the homeless clients are just like us!

Photo of Dan Ryder

This is fantastic.  Is that guide available to view?  It seems like it could be a tremendous mentor text for this collaboration -- was well as for folks to use in most any empathy-needed problem.

Photo of Cynthia Blair Tognotti

Hi Dan 
It's a draft so keep that in mind. I will post to my website.

Photo of Cynthia Blair Tognotti

Last file - How To Build Empathy and Strengthen Your School Community


Photo of Cynthia Blair Tognotti

Here is another link for the Harvard Study we used in class.

Photo of Cynthia Blair Tognotti

Here is the link for the article

Photo of Molly McMahon

Cynthia! This is awesome! I love the exploration into younger grades than high school and the firm believe in volunteerism and service. I'm wondering if there might be some great design research from other sectors about service and it's impact on leadership and transition, that we might use in this college pathways question. For example, have you looked into Salesforce or Google's 20% time. How does that contribute to employees professional journey, and what can glean for the education space?  Great stuff!! 

Photo of Cynthia Blair Tognotti

Wow - No I haven't heard of these but will certainly check them out. We are trying to get a tour of Google so the kids get ideas on designing their classrooms for 2017 - Oracle is building us a permanent home on their campus. Thank you for the idea. I see many companies creating team building through volunteering at the Second Harvest Food Bank and the kids love seeing adults who are kind, and work together for a good cause. Ot makes me think of JFK's famous speech Ask not ...

Photo of Donna Teuber

Hi Cynthia, I visited D.tech about a year ago and was amazed at the ownership that student at your school take for their learning and for the school environment. I wonder how empathy lessons at a young age prepare students for entry into college. I know several teachers who are providing students with similar experiences and am intrigued by how these experiences might affect their college going journey. I look forward to hearing more!

Photo of Cynthia Blair Tognotti

So glad you had the chance to visit. Empathy is a big factor in preparing a student for college - in fact it can better prepare  them in selecting a school.  At the start of my college prep class, I share  "Colleges want to know one thing - the burning question "What will you bring?'" This is where we begin my class. Most look dazed at that question but when we break it down into what a student can bring to campus - collaboration, an open mind, a passion for learning, commitment to serve and contribute, they then begin to see that they need to think these terms versus how AP classes can I take. Just last Monday and  article was released entitled " Want to go to college in "U.S.? Show compassion
not test scores: proposal" discussing a Harvard University-developed proposal to
reform college admissions by relying less on high-stakes tests, and more on teens
demonstrating a passion for learning and long-term volunteer projects. I presented this in the parent presentation celebrating the intersession. I am also sending to all my clients. I'll see if I can post the file. A school would rather see weekly volunteering at a shelter or food bank than that 2 week trip to Guatemala that Mom and Dad paid for.
Developing empathy (an Design Thinking Boot Camp) requires one to look within and reflect. The more a student reflects about what they believe in, are willing to dedicate themselves to, what they want, how they learn the easier time they have finding the right school - the one that fits them best! This can make the college search journey JOYFULL as it should be. So much of the stress created around picking a school is ego driven by parents - it's easy to get caught up in the name and ranking of a college. I ask all my parents at our first consult "What's more important to you, the name of the school your child attends or the person they become?"

Photo of Meredith Herrera

Cynthia, this is such a wonderful project and I think those youngsters have a lot to teach us about how to build community and connection.  Wouldn't it be AMAZING if part of the educational canon could include more curriculum like this? I'm wondering how these exercises contribute to student resilience as well.  Thanks for sharing!  

Photo of Cynthia Blair Tognotti

Great question Meredith. Years ago when I was trying to find the best approach to help my 2 kids with Central Auditory Processing the therapist said the most important quality for kids (and all people) to have is resilience - that ability to get up, bounce back and keep going no matter what. I completely agree. The messages that I see teachers, school administrators and parents giving are more about getting it right, getting that A. Kids need to know the adults in their life learned through making mistakes. Kids need to make those mistakes while at home, when they have (hopefully) family support. It's their job to push the boundaries and make mistakes and educators (including parents) should help them develop residency skills. Great question.