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School & Youth
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  • Teacher Colleen Mack congratulated Leah Richards and her mom, Jennifer Richards, for collecting fitness toys for children in the summer meals and bookmobile programs.
    Photo by Shane Jacobus
    Teacher Colleen Mack congratulated Leah Richards and her mom, Jennifer Richards, for collecting fitness toys for children in the summer meals and bookmobile programs.

Bodkin’s Leah Richards Collects Sporting Goods For Less Fortunate

Shane Jacobus
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June 12, 2018

From May 14 to June 8, second-grader Leah Richards proactively encouraged her classmates at Bodkin Elementary School to donate new fitness toys for their disadvantaged peers in the Anne Arundel County Public Schools book mobile and summer meals programs.

This initiative, aptly titled Leah’s Summer Fitness Project, was sparked just a few months earlier by a typical “yucky dinner episode” that just about all privileged children experience at some point in their lives.

“After the ‘yucky dinner episode,’ Leah and I were talking about how lucky we are to have food in our home,” said Leah’s mom, Jennifer, who works as a media specialist at Jacobsville Elementary School. “If she didn’t like her dinner, there were other food options in our refrigerator. Some children right here in our county don’t have that luxury. We talked about how it would feel to not have enough food at home.”

Leah already knew about the aforementioned summer programs from previous discussions with her mother, so the two of them began brainstorming how Leah could help the students in those programs and become a changemaker: someone who can be innovative and creatively think about a social problem, then translate those ideas and solutions into authentic opportunities as described on the AACPS website in accordance with the international Ashoka Changemaker Schools program.

They came up with a list and decided to focus on providing students with new fitness toys to play with in the summer. They immediately listed items they would ultimately ask Leah’s classmates to donate: footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, Frisbees, hula hoops, Skip-Its, wiffle balls, bats, any kind of fitness toy that encourages physical activity.

After completing this list, Jennifer Richards contacted her daughter’s teachers, namely her homeroom teacher Colleen Mack and Global Studies teacher Melissa Major, about putting their idea into place.

“When Leah and her mother reached out to me for support on this project, I was ecstatic,” said Melissa Major. “This is exactly the kind of work we want our students to accomplish both inside and outside of school. I applaud her for thinking with her heart, taking action when needed, and working together with her classmates to find a solution to the real-world problem she identified.”

As the Global Studies teacher at Bodkin, Major is passionate about the Ashoka Changemaker program, which is designed to help students develop skills in empathy, teamwork, problem-solving, and leadership.

“Global Studies gives students an opportunity to learn about places all around the world and encourages them to become responsible citizens,” she said. “Changemaking is a vehicle that allows us to reach our students in an authentic way. It has become the lens for our decision-making as we work to create a culture of meaning. We teach students that empathy allows them to notice issues that are affecting the lives of others. With leadership they can take action with a team of other passionate students to create positive change. They continue to problem-solve to seek a lasting solution that leaves both the giver and the beneficiary in a better place.”

For more information about the Ashoka Changemaker program, visit

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