Dexter middle school students making a positive impact


This photo is from Action Against Hunger, which is one organization that will be helped by the Dexter students' grant project.

A group of students at Mill Creek Middle School dedicated themselves this past school year to have a positive impact on a global scale, even as they worked much of the time from their homes in Dexter.

These seventh-graders  were part of a project that gave them the opportunity to act on an issue that is monumental and let them know they have the power to do something to help.

It culminated with ten student proposals being awarded Laurence Carolin Sustainable Impact Grants at $100 each. These represented the efforts of 34 kids, who mostly worked in groups on the same proposal.

This grant program was created in the memory of Laurence Carolin, a Dexter student who died from cancer 11 years ago. To honor his legacy of wanting to help others, Carolin’s family uses his college fund to sponsor grants that aim to help alleviate the effects of extreme poverty around the world.

Carolin, who passed away at the age of 15, was described as a humanitarian and philanthropist. After being diagnosed with an inoperable, malignant brain tumor in December of 2007, it was said his perspective on his place in the world changed and he made it his priority to raise awareness about the importance of eliminating extreme poverty and preventable disease.

He was inspired by the band U2, especially lead singer Bono, whom he had the chance to meet at a concert in Chicago in September of 2009.

His obituary said “because of Laurence, tens of thousands of dollars have been raised by members of the Dexter and Ann Arbor communities, including his school district of Dexter, to benefit the United Nations Foundation, which uses its funds to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in Africa.”

Cheryl Darnton, a seventh-grade teacher of Global Studies at Mill Creek, said she uses Carolin’s story to inspire and motivate her students.

The grants go to fund non-profit organizations that are making a difference to solve global issues.

The student proposals awarded grants included:  

  • Forgotten Harvest: Fighting hunger and food waste in Metro Detroit
  • Stop fossil fuels. Build 100% renewable
  • Food Shift: Reducing waste. Nourishing neighbors
  • Rise Against Hunger: Addressing the full scope of hunger & malnutrition
  • Action Against Hunger: Saving the lives of children and families
  • Pure Water for the World: Water filters and sanitation in Haiti
  • NAACP: Defend, Educate, Empower
  • World Food Programme: Food assistance: a step toward peace and stability
  • Global Fund for Women: Movement for gender justice around the world
  • The Malala Fund: Working for a world where every girl can learn and lead

An important goal of the project was to give the students the opportunity to act on an issue that is monumental and to see that they have the power to do something to help.

“This leads to the development of their becoming global citizens,” Darnton said. “There is a saying, ‘Think globally, act locally.’ In their lifetimes these kids will be required to act locally in many ways to mitigate the effects of climate change and other problems we face in the world. They need to have an understanding of some of the ways global issues affect other people who do not live in affluent areas, are not surrounded by freshwater, and who may not have access to jobs or free education.”

Another big goal was getting the students to develop the intellectual understanding of these issues and impacts so they can empathize enough to be willing to act.

“It will take a lot of ‘hands on deck’ to solve the pressing global issues humanity faces,” said Darnton. “Our daily decisions about how we use water, electricity, and the cars we buy will become more important as we come together to improve the problems humanity faces.”

The grant writing proposals are part of a larger project. Darnton said this past school year she was teaching from the Summit Learning space, so the project was called "Global Summit."

The kids learned a little bit about the G7 (Group of Seven) and the role of that group in the world. The students were introduced to some of the global issues that the G7 is supposed to work on, such as climate change, extreme poverty, hunger, water scarcity, equality, overpopulation, etc.

G7 is an inter-governmental political forum consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States

Students worked in self-selected groups, mostly 2-5 students. Each of the student groups chose a global issue that they wanted to study.

Their tasks, Darnton said, were to:

Research the global issue they chose to create a presentation to teach the class. They had to learn about the human impact of the issue, find a location (country or region) on Earth where the issue is salient and describe the situation, and they had to explore solutions. Kids found solutions on the United Nations website and on the websites of a variety of non-profit organizations that are working on solving major world problems.

The student groups had to present their slideshows to their classmates (half were presented in-person and half were via our live Zoom class). They had to take on the role of teacher. They fielded questions and did their best to answer them.

Then they had to write a Laurence Carolin Sustainable Impact Grant proposal to fund a non-profit organization that is working to provide a sustainable solution to the global issue they studied. The work of the non-profit organization could be focused anywhere in the world.

While each group selected the organization for which they wanted to write their grant, Darnton said each individual had to complete the application and in order to be considered for funding, the grant had to be turned in by the deadline. She selected the best-written grant from each group to bring to the committee, which consisted of herself, Lisa Carolin and Suzanne Murphy.

One of the student groups that stood out, even though their grant proposal wasn’t selected, was a group of girls who embarked on their own fundraising campaign for Save the Children to educate girls in developing countries. Darnton said they called a representative from Save the Children to find out how to create their own web page to raise $500. (Their site can be found at

Here are examples from some grant applications:

From seventh-grader Jason H's grant application for Global Fund for Women:

Question: Why did you choose to write a Laurence Carolin Sustainable Impact Grant for this project?

One reason I wrote a Laurence Carolin Grant is that the money could help me make a difference. Another reason is that this inequality affects everyone, male or female, adults and children. Ending gender inequality will improve the world.

From seventh-grader Ainslie R'S grant application for Forgotten Harvest:

Question: Give specific information explaining how the project supports sustainable development.

This organization’s number 1 long-term goal is to stop food waste, they have many short-term goals to see this through. They take food that would have otherwise been wasted (from restaurants, caterers, grocery stores). Furthermore, they take that food and put it on the table of families that were in need of it and couldn’t get it for themselves.

From seventh-grader Eva P's grant application for Pure Water for the World:

Question: What else would you like the committee to know?

There is an insane amount of people struggling with the water crisis, children, girls, women, people of all ages, races, and genders are suffering because of sicknesses, diseases, parasites, and dehydration. Communities that have recurring droughts can sometimes not make enough food for people to eat because there isn’t enough water for farming, which then causes malnutrition as well. When looking at what has been happening, it is important to note that we can make a change, we can do something if we have the opportunities, and when we have those opportunities we need to take them and act on them.

In asking Darnton to look back over the past school year and how things turned out with the project, she told The Sun Times News, “As a middle school social studies teacher, one aspect of my role is to help students understand some of the difficult issues we face in the world.”

“The students at this age are starting to become young adult thinkers, many are paying attention to current events, and the transition from the protected comfort of childhood to the harsh reality of global issues is a big one,” she said. “I worry about overwhelming kids with the truth. I worry about my students developing a sense of hopelessness and despair in the face of the mountains of global issues humanity has created for itself. I want them to know that they can always do something because they have the great luck of having been born in the U.S.A. They can write to elected officials, they can donate their birthday money to a charity, they can do chores to earn donations for a charity they care about, they can speak their mind and teach others, etc. The Laurence Carolin Sustainable Impact Grants is one way that my students can engage in an act of hope and action. I love the fact that Laurence's legacy is a model for my students. He was a young person who made a difference, and they can, too.”

Anyone who would like to donate to the Laurence Carolin Sustainable Impact Grants can do so. Checks should be made payable to Dexter Community Schools and sent to Mill Creek Middle School attn: Laurence Carolin Grants, 7305 Dexter-Ann Arbor Rd, Dexter, MI 48130. Donations are not tax deductible because they are passing the donations on to other charitable organizations and are not using them directly for public school purposes.

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