Three years ago, the kids in my sixth grade classroom were wrestling with the implications of the New York City soda ban. While they understood the notion that consuming too much sugar was dangerous for individuals and damaging to an economy due to ridiculous medical expenses, they weren’t certain that letting the government control what people can eat was a good idea at all.
So I pitched a simple idea: Why don’t we start blogging about the amount of sugar in the foods that people eat on a regular basis? Raising awareness is a way of taking action, too — and it’s something that we can do from our classroom. That was the genesis of #sugarkills — the most successful classroom blog that I’ve ever had.
Dozens of kids started coming to my room at lunchtime to write and we quickly built a pretty impressive audience. We wrote comparison posts, gave readers recommendations, and began to distinguish between natural and added sugars in our writing. We started a war on Girl Scouts, argued for readers to make healthier choices, and helped struggling writers to make contributions to the conversations we were starting. Through it all, my kids felt like they were making a difference in the world — and that sense of empowerment and agency felt good.
When the year ended, the core of my #sugarkills team — Daniel, Ried, Joel, Dylan, Christian and Conor — stopped by my room to make plans for continuing our blog. They were adamant that the blog couldn’t be given to a new group of students because it belonged to them. The hitch was that we had no time during the day for the boys to work on our blog and they were too busy after school to turn #sugarkills into a club.
“Can we come up to work during our lunch period?” they asked.
And they did, churning out almost 70 posts over the course of just a few short months. Imagine that, would you? How many seventh grade boys do you know who are willingly giving up their lunch period and recess time to work on a classroom blog?
Those same boys were jazzed at the beginning of this year when they found out that our school had a built-in enrichment period because it meant that they could continue to write for #sugarkills without having to miss their lunch periods — and continue to write for #sugarkills is exactly what they did.
Ried has been churning out pretty remarkable content pieces like this one clarifying the different numbers that health organizations put out around sugar consumption. Joel likes to look at the medical impact that sugar has on people — and he often teams with Christian to write the kinds of pieces that make up the bulk of our posts. Daniel has written and rewritten the most popular bit on our entire blog. He’s also the unofficial proofreader of the bunch, polishing bits until they shine. And Conor and Dylan add their voice most often by creating really cool graphics for our site (see here and here).
The boys have also taken on a leadership role in training their replacements!
They have faithfully served as official and unofficial mentors for a whole new crew of #sugarkills writers. They’ve taught kids how to make posts, to insert slides, to check our statistics and to respond to commenters. Most importantly, they have proven day after day that blogging can be cool. As a result, there are several hard-core sixth graders who stand ready to take over when Daniel, Joel, Ried, Conor, Dylan and Christian move on to high school.
And that move is coming all too quickly: Tuesday is their last day in our school. So I wanted to say goodbye. Publicly. Here on my own blog.
I’m going to miss you, boys. You’ve made me proud time and time again. Thank you for proving that middle school boys can be powerful and intelligent and committed to making a difference in the world. You’ve been an inspiration to me and to dozens of other students who have followed your lead and written for our blog.
Goodbye and good luck,
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