Empathy in Action: How Spectrum Students are Making a Difference for Endangered Animals

A Student Ambassador Program Case Study

By Team Meg | 8 June 2023

“This is the most important thing I’ve ever done!”

– Kenneth, 2022/23 Global Citizenship Student Ambassador

Spectrum Progressive School is a private, independent school serving the Rockford, Illinois area. It follows a Progressive Education model with small class sizes and a focus on connecting with nature and developing 21st-Century Skills.

This made Spectrum a perfect prospect for the Student Ambassador Program (SAP). Collaboration and Active Learning are so embedded in the Spectrum Progressive School, that they hit the ground running with enthusiasm as they developed and implemented their project.

“I really like Meg’s model and wanted to support its efforts as an organization. I value international education and saw SAP as a way to increase my students’ global perspectives. I like the connection to other students trying to make a difference in their communities and world.”

– Dr. Mary Beth Cunat, Principal at Spectrum Progressive School and Global Citizenship Student Ambassador Coordinator


The Global Citizenship Student Ambassadors successfully accomplished the following outcomes:

  • Forging partnerships with a total of 7 organizations representing local and worldwide conservation efforts.
  • Conducting research on endangered species and providing summaries of their findings to encourage people to donate.
  • Maintaining regular communications with their school community via e-newsletters, live presentations, and social media.
  • Creating posters to display and garner donations for their chosen organizations.
  • Launching a website to implement their campaign and accept donations.

Project Description

From day one, the Student Ambassadors identified endangered animals as a key focus area. They were concerned about habitat loss, pollution, and urban encroachment. They also shared concerns regarding poaching and trophy hunting. They decided their goal was to raise awareness about endangered animals in the hopes that people would consider changing their behavior. They want to urge people to support organizations that are already doing the important work of protecting endangered animals.

The Student Ambassadors considered both the local and global aspects of their impact – tapping into every layer of their potential reach. Their research considered both local and global endangered animals. They advocated for endangered animals by giving smaller presentations within their school all the way to creating a site on the world wide web.

They decided to take action on this issue in the following ways:

  • Education campaign within the school community and beyond
  • Advocacy and petitioning local government officials
  • Partnering with other organizations
  • Digital Stuffy Campaign and website

“We care about animals. We want the whole world to care about animals.”

– Julia, 2022/23 Global Citizenship Student Ambassador

Step 1: Research Endangered Animals

Student Ambassadors first researched the issue of endangered animals by reading articles and watching documentary-style videos to learn more about a variety of endangered species and the range of reasons that impact habitat loss. They decided for their project that, while the larger issue would be ‘Endangered Animals’, each student would choose an animal they felt personally connected to and cared about under that larger topic.

They knew that the first part of their action project would need to be an education and awareness campaign so they started by drawing pictures of their chosen endangered animals to include on posters they planned to include when they launched their campaign.

Step 2: Run an Awareness/Education Campaign

The next step of the project would be to raise awareness of the different species facing extinction. Student Ambassadors quickly realized that asking people to take action on issues impacting animal extinction wouldn’t be effective if people didn’t know that much about the animal or connect empathetically to their cause.

As part of their awareness campaign, Student Ambassadors created a website and harnessed the power of social media. They created posters based on the research they had done on their endangered animals which would be showcased on their project website as part of their Digital Stuffy Campaign.

They presented a slideshow to their school community to inform them about their project, its aims, and how others could join them to take action on endangered species. They needed to write a clear ‘call to action’ to help their different audiences understand what was being asked and how they could effectively take action to support this cause. Their work was so inspiring that additional students felt encouraged to join the Student Ambassadors throughout the Spring semester and take a more active role in the project implementation!

They also kept the school community informed via weekly email correspondence, emailing parents, presenting at school assemblies, and launching their official website. Additionally, with the help of their Coordinator, they sent a press release out which was picked up by their local news media.

Step 3: Partner with Organizations

The Spectrum Global Citizenship Student Ambassadors knew that external partnerships would strengthen and amplify their efforts. They identified an organization to accompany each of their selected endangered animals and began their outreach about working with them.

Once their drawings for the endangered animal posters were completed, they partnered with Argentinian graphic artist Jahel Prieto to help bring the visuals to life and create a critical piece of their Digital Stuffy Campaign.

Each endangered animal poster was then linked to a specific organization to which people can send a donation, including:

While the donation aspect is ongoing, we hear that their friends at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago are super excited to be one of the selected organizations!

“Thanks again for shaping such a fantastic project and learning opportunity for your students. I truly can’t wait to see how it unfolds for them.”

– Natalie King, Director of Individual & Planned Giving at the Shedd Aquarium

In addition to the specific animal conservation organizations, Student Ambassadors also emailed and mailed numerous political leaders to encourage them to sponsor laws that help endangered species. Some Student Ambassadors shared that they did not even realize it was possible to write letters to elected leaders and even felt empowered when they received responses from partner organizations.

Step 4: Digital Stuffy Campaign

In order to involve a larger audience, Student Ambassadors launched their Digital Stuffy Campaign via their website to raise money for the aforementioned organizations.

They created advocacy posters that included their endangered animal drawings and information about the species. The posters also incorporated a QR code and link to the chosen organization that allows donors to connect directly with the organization’s donor page.

Donors can choose from the animal posters linked on the website. Read up on all of the animals and make your donation directly!

As a thank you, the Student Ambassadors will send a gratitude certificate and a digital file of your chosen endangered animal.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals

As part of the knowledge exploration on topics linked to Global Citizenship Education, the Student Ambassadors explored the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They identified the following goals linked to their own project:

  • Goal 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
  • Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
  • Goal 13 – Climate Action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
  • Goal 14 – Life Below Water: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.
  • Goal 15 – Life On Land: Protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
  • Goal 17 – Partnerships for the Goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.

Project Outcomes

1. School Community Outcomes

When the Spectrum Student Ambassadors began their project, they were a small but mighty group of 5 students. As their ideas took root and started to grow, they presented the early stages of their project to the school community. As a result, they inspired additional students to join and become Young Changemakers themselves.

Once the project was implemented, Mary Beth noted that the school response in terms of donations started slow, but built – especially with the excitement surrounding their front page news across several local media outlets.

“In some ways, I think this has been so well executed that many parents didn’t realize it was OUR kids – they thought it was an external program we were adopting,” says Mary Beth. “Now that people are wrapping their minds around how neat this project is, we are getting more energy.”

2. Educator Outcomes

As a veteran of project-based learning, Mary Beth was perfectly prepared to let her Student Ambassadors take the lead on the Empathy for Endangered Animals project. She shared that she was able to use this program to help a new teacher gain experience with project-based facilitation.

3. Student Ambassador Outcomes

Student Ambassadors developed skills in the following areas:

  • Reading to find the most important facts about endangered animals and summarizing for their audiences
  • Researching organizations that help animals
  • Writing letters and labeling envelopes
  • Writing elevator pitches and making presentations/public speaking
  • Managing email, files, and sharing documents
  • Project Management – sharing tasks and collaborating with fellow student ambassadors

“All of these [skills] are relevant to any future projects,” Mary Beth added.

When the students were asked what they really learned the most, leadership was the top word that came to mind for the Student Ambassadors. One student said that he never knew he could actually do something to be a changemaker.

“I think the constant level of press and challenge to move the project forward and put out a quality product and keep at it was different for them….it was real, not just a school task. Knowing they can email an NGO or write to a politician… they can use their voice to effect change.”

– Dr. Mary Beth Cunat, Principal at Spectrum Progressive School and Global Citizenship Student Ambassador Coordinator

2023 and Beyond…!

As part of their project Empathy for Endangered Animals (EfEA), Spectrum Ambassadors are still accepting donations for their Digital Stuffy Campaign!

Check out the “Spectrum School Global Ambassadors: Empathy for Endangered Animals” for all of the details about this incredible project and how you can support their efforts.

“No one is too young to change the world.”

– Kenneth, 2022/23 Global Citizenship Student Ambassador

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