In addition to their academic exploration into topics they are curious or passionate about, Wheeler students regularly organize social and fundraising initiatives to engage around issues that resonate with them.
Last week, the Middle School’s Green Team hosted a bake sale to raise funds for the Plastic Pollution Coalition, a global alliance of organizations and individuals that is working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impact on humans, animals, waterways, the ocean, and the environment. “We raised over $300 selling delicious treats!” said Sabrina Gonzalez ’26. Sabrina and fellow Green Team students also organized a raffle. As she explained, “Students need to bring in and use a reusable container, a reusable water bottle, and/or reusable cutlery to school. For each item that they bring, they receive one raffle ticket. Some of the prizes are reusable Starbucks cups, a 4ocean bracelet, bamboo toothbrushes, and Blueland soap.”
William Wert ’23, meanwhile, headed to the basketball court in support of an organization that has had a major impact on his life. “I was born with congenital heart disease, and I have had no other heart problems since then, thanks in part to the work done by the American Heart Association,” he said. “I really love basketball, and I wanted to bring those two things together, so I thought that 3v3 basketball would be the most fun way to get people engaged.”
Eight teams participated in the tournament, with many more people showing up to watch the games, which were recently played on the East Campus court during lunch. He also organized a bake sale to help raise some additional money and attract even more Wheeler community members. “There was a lot of support from students who offered to help and who came to East Campus to donate and have a good time,” William said. “I was surprised by how popular the tournament ended up being, and I plan on doing this again next year.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, the Middle School Girls Empowerment Group drew their own crowds with a sweet approach to raising awareness. The students held a fundraiser in the Wheeler School courtyard, offering root beer floats, ice cream, and other items like bracelets to benefit the non-profit organization Roots Ethiopia. Lila Stone ‘26, president of the group, said she was inspired to hold the sale as she had always been interested in helping people who’s issues are rarely brought up at home or school. Lila and the group made sure to have pamphlets available at their table, explaining the organization’s goals of improving the education and livelihood of communities in Ethiopia.
“I felt that this was important because from what I’ve seen, a lot of people don’t know about the issues women in Ethiopia face,” Lila said. “I want people to not just buy a root beer float, but to also take a pamphlet and read about what they are donating too. I hope that our sale impacts the kids and helps them gain interest in topics like this.”
Other students took an unconventional approach to supporting their causes. Middle School Student Council Co-Presidents ChiChi Minami ‘26 and Sophia Mocco ‘26 organized a 24-hour no-screen fundraiser for UNICEF in support of Ukrainian children. The pair knew they wanted to find their own way to help address the situation in Ukraine but initially struggled with a fundraiser that would both inform and engage their peers.
“After consulting with various people, it eventually brought us to the 24-hour no-screen—a challenge that not only raised donations for Ukrainian refugees and children but also urged us to acknowledge our daily privileges,” ChiChi said. “We took inspiration from the various holidays of that week, many of which were about giving something up.”
“Personally I feel like we should help people when they need it,” Sophia said. “I also have a lot of family in Poland who tell us about the Ukrainian refugees they have staying with them. One of my aunts is helping a family of six who is staying with her. She has told us about some of the hardships this family is going through from fleeing a country and war to starting over in a new country where you can’t even speak the language.”
The rules were simple but significant given our daily use of screen-based devices – no phone, computer, tablet, or TV for 24 hours at home and at school. While teachers may have assigned homework that required no electronics to complete, the pair said the lack of devices presented other challenges.
“Though I thought the practicality of doing my school work would be the most difficult, I was surprised when I struggled to stay away from online or electronic activities such as social media and TV,” ChiChi said. But, she says she was lucky to have her parents help with taking away her devices and helping her steer away from returning to familiar screens.
Sophia said it was challenging for her and her peers to not be able to engage in any digital social interaction, whether through networks, emails, or even text messages. “Kids wouldn’t be allowed to snap anyone or check their Instagram, which is something people do constantly throughout the day. So getting out of that habit for a day could be tough.” When thinking back on the biggest challenge, Sophia has one in particular. “Personally the hardest thing for me was not having any music to listen to, which is something I constantly do throughout the day,” she said.”
ChiChi said there was some understandable reluctance behind some students’ hesitation in participating in the fundraiser. However, that ultimately didn’t impede its success.
“Electronics are essentially permeating our daily lives,” she said. “Some didn’t even consider taking on the challenge, concluding that it was too difficult and wouldn’t work. But, we were reassured when about half the Middle School gave up their screens and, in turn, showed their support for Ukraine.”
The 24-hour screen-free challenge, which culminated in a special movie night on April 14 with a screening of the movie Shrek in Isenberg Auditorium, ultimately raised over $2,000.
ChiChi and Sophia acknowledged the fundraiser was a challenge, but it also reminded them of the privileges they enjoy and the harsh reality facing children across Ukraine.
“The student council, Sophia, and I will continue paying attention to these causes, organizing related events/fundraisers, and again, reminding Wheeler students of the privileges we all hold,” ChiChi said.