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20% Time (Genius Hour) With Freshmen: Civic Action

By Ms. Casey Pickett’s III Formers

20% Time (Genius Hour) With Freshmen: Civic Action

Editor’s Note: In Ms. Casey Pickett’s III Form English classes, her students pursue 20% Time (or “Genius Hour”) projects. Below are Ms. Pickett’s instructions, a student’s reflection, and several artifacts from the experience. Please keep scrolling! 


The purpose of the project is to give you time to pursue something that you are passionate about, interested in, or something you’ve always wanted to do. It is a time for you to be creative and to take ownership of your learning AND your education. If it is important to you, it has value.

Essential Questions:

What does it mean to be a citizen (global, local, digital)?

What are civics? Why is it important that we are civically engaged?

How can I be a voice for and/or create social change?

Please click here for the full assignment explanation.

A Reflection by Paige LaMalva

As a student, I feel as though there isn’t enough time after academics and athletics to pursue something a student is interested in. At a school like St. Mark’s, for example, we are in class from 8:30am-3:00 pm and then at sports from 3:30-5:00 pm, which is followed by a short period of time to relax before study hall at 7:30 pm. With the 20% Time project, my fellow classmates and I were permitted to explore a topic of our interest. For me, I chose to research pancreatic cancer. Without the 45-minute block per week working on this, I wouldn’t have learned why pancreatic cancer is called “The Silent Cancer.” 

During this project, I was capable of letting my creativity show through my learning. Since this project didn’t have a rubric, it required each member of the class to pick their desired topic and do what they wanted with it. When I initially began researching pancreatic cancer and learned how difficult it is to contain, I knew that something must be done. This is why I decided to create a Kahoot, a fundraiser, and raise money for the Lustgarten Foundation.

When I first told my grandmother what I was doing several weeks ago, I could see tears fill her eyes. Her smile was radiant. I found this so rewarding because I knew how much this meant to her and my family after my grandfather dying from pancreatic cancer almost twelve years ago.

I learned two major life skills from this project. The first one is there are instances where someone should leave their comfort zone to accomplish something. For me, this was when I had to speak in front of the whole school about my project. Speaking up in front of the school helped me overcome my public speaking fear and allowed me to raise more money than just approaching students and asking for funds.

Secondly, I learned how to communicate with people in the real world. I spoke with Susanne Igneri, Special Events Coordinator for the Lustgarten Foundation, about how I could help raise money for pancreatic cancer research. I had to listen and compromise with her. Another person I spoke to was Salah Abdo, Assistant Dean of Students, about when and how the fundraiser should function. This required the most compromising because we had to work around school events as well.

The most challenging part of this project was the amount of time given. I believe this issue applies to my original project. This entailed both a fundraiser and a triathlon. With the lack of time, I was forced to eliminate the triathlon part. When I completed the triathlon over the summer, I realized that it was a life-changing experience, and I wanted to share that with the St. Mark’s community.

The learning outcome ‘embrace failure, reflect on failure and adapt your projects based on what you learned from those failures’ completely fits my project. If I were to do this project again, my expectations would have been set much lower. I raised about $150 for the Lustgarten Foundation, but my original goal was $1,000. I think by raising $150, I was still able to contribute to the Lustgarten Foundation significantly. With the money I raised, I still think they will be one step closer to finding a cure for pancreatic cancer.


20% Time Artifacts of Learning:

Healthcare – Anu Akibu

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