RANCHESTER — If you ask a 13-year-old to name a personal hero, would they be more likely to choose Kim Kardashian or Clara Barton? Or maybe the choice is between Tom Brady and Stephan Hawking? If they had successfully completed the Hero Fair project at Tongue River Middle School, the answers would likely be the latter choices.
Every seventh- and eighth-grade student that currently enrolled in one of Robert Griffin’s history classes was tasked with finding someone truly heroic to learn about, and be inspired by.
“So often they (the students) look to be inspired by people who are not of the correct nature to inspire them,” Griffin said. “And here, you’ll see Jesus, you have Chris Kyle, you have a better variety of people who will help our youth understand that heroism is not fame, it’s the sacrifice for others’ good. And that’s the essence of the assignment, learning how to give of yourself to help other people.”
There are three requirements to the assignment: students must prepare and deliver a speech that is more than four minutes long without any aid; they must prepare a tri-fold board containing a timeline of their hero’s life and facts and quotes about them; and finally they must prepare a biography. The biography must be at least 1,000 words long and utilize at least three resources. All of the assignment parameters were set by the students themselves.
They take about three weeks to prepare this final project and complete the program by presenting their speech, while dressed as their hero, to their classmates, teachers and parents during the Hero Fair.
Students can choose anyone they want as a hero but have to make a case for the selection’s heroism to have the project approved.
Griffin said, this year, two students chose family members, some students stretched charity angles to choose more everyday folks, but most students truly immersed themselves in the project to find someone they can admire for years to come.
Reagan Mullaney chose Liz Murray as her hero.
Murray, the inspiration for the movie “Homeless to Harvard” and author of “Breaking Night: The Astonishing True Story of Courage, Survival and Overcoming All the Odds,” was the daughter of poor drug addicts. Murray lived alone on the streets at the age of 15 after her mother died of AIDS and her father left. She went on to receive a full scholarship to attend Harvard and later founded the Manifest Living organization — a company based in New York that aims to empower anyone who has the desire to change their life.
“I lived about a year in the streets, sleeping on park benches and studying on the subway,” Mullaney said, speaking as Murray in her presentation. “One day a thought occurred to me. My mother was always saying to me, ‘I’ll fix my life someday,’ and it became clear to me when I saw her die without fulfilling her dreams, my time is now or maybe never.”
Mullaney said she learned of Murray while researching inspiring people online.
“It wasn’t like all the other stories to me because she had to overcome so much, being homeless and then going to one of the most prestigious schools in all the world,” Mullaney said. “She is a woman I truly aspire to be like. I want to become someone that helps people, possibly a psychologist.”
Kenzie McPhie chose Malalai Joya, Afghani former parliamentarian, founder of a forbidden girls school and a woman who stood for the rights of women and all the people of Afghanistan to be educated and free from terrorism. McPhie added an accent to her presentation, trying to embody the spirit of Joya.
“I wanted to inspire people because I knew that even when I was gone I wanted other people to be able to follow in my footsteps and help my country,” McPhie said as Joya in her presentation. “Not all of us in Afghanistan are terrorists. There are good people and innocent people just like in America.”
McPhie said she had always been interested in what was really happening in Afghanistan. After hearing people say America was fighting them and they were bad people, she questioned how everyone in an entire country could be bad.
“She was fighting for women’s rights and education in her country to try and help them because she knows what’s happening is not right and it shouldn’t be that way, and so I found that inspiring,” McPhie said. “Even as a woman who was looked down upon in her country, and was young, she is still doing what she can for her country. It inspired me because even though I might not be a very special person, or someone that people look to as a leader or someone that is very strong in the things I do, I can still make a difference in the lives we live today.”
Find more photos of the Tongue River Hero Fair online at thesheridanpress.com.