We met with Amy Chandler to learn about My Hero Journey and how it helps educators build character and civic dispositions in young students.
UCLC (Judi): First, what is My Hero Journey?
Chandler: My Hero Journey is a company dedicated to helping children of every age, and even adults learn that it truly is the journey we each walk that turn us into the heroes of our own story, and with that knowledge, we can find the strength to face our own unique challenges. The My Hero Journey curriculum is specifically designed to teach each person that they are the hero in their own story: They have foes and challenges, but they also have "SuperHeroes" and "Sidekicks" they can mobilize to do amazing things in their life and bless the lives of others. That, however, is a forthright decision they get to make, and My Hero Journey is there to help them on that journey.
This dynamic and unique program is not an add-on to already busy schedules and overflowing lesson plans. It is a proven and efficient way to meet curriculum standards in a meaningful way that the students and educators will be engaged in because it’s about them. People of all ages have the right to see themselves as SuperHeroes, but we have an obligation to make sure children of all ages are empowered to see how strong they are and how amazing and powerful their unique gifts and talents make them. They need to see and know that everyone has weaknesses, unique family circumstances and challenges to overcome, but that doesn’t take away from their hero status, instead, it’s what allows them to become the hero they were always meant to be along their journey of life.
What is My Hero Journey's purpose, target, goals with respect to preparation for civic life in K-12, in particular building character, civic dispositions, and other traits described in Utah's Portrait of a Graduate?
We are thrilled to see the civics education stakeholders acknowledging the need for character building and civic dispositions. Our curriculum is interwoven throughout state standards. We are aligned to all 6c’s for deep learning (critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity, character, and citizenship). In the process students are learning how to take the lead in their story.
They remain engaged throughout the process as each student must understand how the principles being taught have a place in their individual story. As students share their stories with one another in their communities they learn to embrace stories of all individuals as heroes of their own personal journey and, in that process, become more united in compassion, understanding and empathy as we realize every story really does matter! As individuals are able to gain this empathy and compassion they are then better able to learn together, serve together, and ultimately build incredible communities together.
Do you have any stories you can share about students benefiting from your program?
A few years ago we worked with a student at Cottonwood high school. He was a refugee student that had been assigned to come to Salt Lake City Utah. He shared with us a story that will forever be seared in our hearts. He was 6 years old and living in a small city outside Turkey. There were US military forces there trying to protect them. He would spend his days learning English from the soldiers. When the militants would advance towards the town he would run and let the English troops know and they would be able to intersect them. The militants soon learned there had to be an informant in the city and they were determined to figure it out.
One day he and his mom went into the market to get some food. When they returned the militants had massacred his entire family except his two handicapped brothers. That was a disgrace in their culture so they had left them alive to be a burden to him and his mother. This young man and his mother took his two brothers and immediately fled to Turkey. They were able to find refuge in a cave on a hillside. For the next 10 years they would live in this cave. They had a smartphone and he would use a solar charger and charge the phone outside the cave during the day, and at night he would bring it into the cave and he would take classes online, watch YouTube videos about anything and everything he could to further his education. There’s more to the story, but they eventually were able to escape, receive refugee status and were assigned to relocate to Salt Lake City. When he arrived here the teachers were shocked at how much this young man knew considering his background. He flew past all the tests, advanced quickly, and even scored a 34 on the ACT within a year of being here. There were a million things out of his control, but the one thing that was in his control for that decade of his life was his attitude and how he spent his time. He had many things to be concerned about, but he couldn’t change them. He focused on what was in his control.
This young man did our program and made his book 4 years ago! He declared his affirmation statement he wanted to be known for was “I am smart”. At the time he was struggling in school. It was the summer before his senior year. His future dream and goal he declared was that he wanted to be a pilot. He was with a group of refugee students we were working with. I remember his life goal because 98% of the refugees’ career goal is in the health profession because they saw so much suffering they couldn’t do anything about. I happened to interview this young man so I was ready to write “doctor” or “nurse” because that’s what was so common. He shocked me with his declaration of “pilot”. I asked him why he wanted that career. He replied, “someone has to fly all these doctors and nurses back to our home countries to help the suffering!” He was brilliant. I have never forgotten our conversation.
This weekend his teacher took this picture and emailed it to me and told me about the next chapter of his story. He worked hard and got his grades up, graduated, and was admitted to SLCC. His grades are fantastic and he will have his pilot’s license at the end of the summer. She said, “remember this kid, remember how he wanted to be “smart” and be a “pilot”. He’s soon to be both! Saw him today and he was sharing these stories with me today and I asked him what helped him reach his goal. He said he read his book everyday and hung this page open above his desk at school to remind him."
We worked with a 16 year old girl helping her through this process. She didn’t really want to write much, she wouldn’t really open up to some of the activities. She said she couldn’t, she didn’t have anything worth writing about, and her circumstances would never change. She completed the assignments and published her book. We came back the next year to work with the next class, she was a TA for the class this time. She contacted our team and asked for permission to do the program again with these students. She exclaimed, “I didn’t understand how important it was the first time and I didn’t really do the work. Even when I didn’t really do the work I still have seen so much value from the process, that I really want to go all in this time. I’m ready to tell my story and take charge of my future with the tools. As she opened up her mind to being willing to engage in the hard, reframe the difficult past and choose a different mindset she really began to transform her story. She is a gifted leader in her peer community, she is chasing after her dreams, and it is fun to watch her succeed in ways she didn’t think she could.
How can teachers and classrooms participate in your programs? Do you have any events coming up that we can help promote?
We are always looking for classrooms who are eager to help give their students a voice and learn these valuable skills. If they are interested in learning more they can fill out this form on our website and a member of our team will set up a time to go through the specifics.
In partnership with My Story Matters, we have a few grants available for new schools to participate. Apply here: https://forms.gle/kW2VRngURjc2vo9o8
What brought you to the Utah Civic Learning Collaborative? Where would you like it to focus its efforts?
We have been interacting with the UCLC for several years through your conferences and events. We have enjoyed our interactions with several of the faculty who are engaged in helping each learner help their communities to be stronger, better united, and leading the way. Our curriculum is a great support in empowering each student to believe they are capable of doing just that!