Learning Change Agent: Priya Shah

What is your name? Priya Shah

Where are you from? Oak Park, IL (Currently Reside: Chicago, IL)

What organization do you represent? The Simple Good

What is your job title? Founder and Executive Director

How long has the organization been in existence?

It first started as a blog about five years ago, but a formal organization with our programming four years ago.

What is the mission and vision of the organization?

Our mission is to connect the meaning of good from around the world and to empower at risk youth to become positive activist through art and discussion. So, we put together afterschool art programming that is very conscious and focuses on personal awareness and personal good to empower students to become positive activists in the community and continue to bring positivity into underserved areas.

What impact do you think your organization has on learning and education?

There are a lot of things that I think this program is very important for. The arts, itself, has an ability to not only to allow you to express yourself, but there is the ability for cognitive development and growth that comes within just the arts. But, on top of that, we embed social emotional learning, art therapy, and also positive mindfulness in order to create an articulation as well as a different understanding of personal awareness and identity. Discussions include a thorough examination of identity to give our students the empowerment to feel like they can change the world as well as put them in touch with a larger purpose and a larger understanding of the world. So, we bring into different contexts, including a global context, different definitions of good and how [the students] can relate to that through this crowd source photo blog, which people are constantly submitting photos. Our students are learning from the photos, using them as inspiration for their own meaning of good, and also developing an understanding of perspective of different lives in the world and putting that within their own perspective. This engagement enables the students to feel like there is still more possibility out there. The Simple Good is a self-immersing experience, eye-opening program, which is not ever given into the communities that we are in. We bring not only perspective, but also a sense of therapy, a sense of exposure, empowerment, as well as ability for these students to articulate how they feel, given the complex environment that they are in.

Tell me a little bit more about the communities that you service through your educational program and the communities that you service globally.

They are all under resource areas that typically have low to no art resources and we always look for some art advocate in that community who is looking for a means to bring art into the community. A lot of these areas are where the funding for schools is very low, or extracurricular activities are very low, a lot of the time the poverty line is incredibly low. One of the areas we work in, 90% of the students at that school are homeless. So, these are very complex communities where kids have a lot of complexities going on in their mind and where an outlet is really needed in order for them to truly move forward and pay attention in school. And also this whole concept of creating a goal, creating some aspirations, is also something that is lacking in these communities. So, through the program we try to bring the larger perspective of possibilities in order for these students to think about what else is there in the world to aspire to.

Could you tell me a little more about that global community? I know that it is not physical, but it is more digital, or online, or cyber?

Yes, it is an online community of people who have been following The Simple Good and submitting their photography on their meaning of ‘the simple good’ in their life. What ended up happening is that we created a global photo blog, which has gone viral, and we are using that as the curriculum in the schools that we work in. So, students literally review the photos on the blog and read the accompanying stories out loud. This does two things, not only does this give the students a different perspective of good from around the world, which they are then challenged to relate to; but it also challenges them to read these different languages and articulations from around the world, to create a different understanding of language around the world and provide examples of how people express themselves so that the students can better express their own story.

What inspired you to get involved in education or this type of work in the field of education?

Well, I always had amazing teachers growing up that gave me a lot of exposure to different perspectives that weren’t taught in the classroom. These teachers related the learning to real world things, and that’s what drove me to immerse myself into real world situations. I worked in a lot of slums in India and traveled quite a bit in Africa, going into areas where you find that people may not have as much, you realize that the limitation of knowledge is really what stunts their possibility. It is not a difficult thing to give them that [knowledge] either. We all have the ability to give education to each other, we all have the ability to learn and teach, therefore, continuing through the cycle. That is what really intrigued me, about how you truly help a person move forward in life, no matter where they are at in the socioeconomic system or what part of their age range. Wherever they are at, you can always create some sort of learning from your own life to help someone else, and at the same time while you do that, you’re learning yourself. I thought that was a simple and easy solution to enrich people’s lives, so I have always been intrigued about how we can simply do that into areas that people are fearful of or refuse to explore. That is what created my intrigue to just go into the areas that were in my backyard. I was never intimidated about doing this, because I have seen a vast array of people. Going into these areas, not only do you share your own knowledge, you learn so much from the members of these communities as well. So, that is how I feel, simple knowledge can really make a difference.

If you can change anything regarding education and/or learning, what would it be?

Making it more experiential. Growing up, when I was in classrooms, I loved learning, but I hated sitting down and just reading books and taking tests. I felt like I actually learned and did the best when I had some sort of experience attached to what was in the textbook, and really applying that knowledge or seeing people in real life that are going through something that relates to that lesson. Because that is what brings it to reality, and that’s what also makes a connection to who you are as a person. It creates some inner reflection and it also creates some personal awareness about how you see the world, which changes how you are going to continue living your life. As soon as you see someone else’s perspective and then relate that to yourself, that’s what really makes that education more meaningful. So, I think having experiential learning is the key to really get people to progress.

What advice would you give to someone who is in the process of learning something new?

I think always when you are learning something new; you always have to keep an open mind. No matter what your assumptions are or whatever your experiences are, really listening from the perspective of the person who is giving that lesson allows you to digest it for what it is, and then after that process is done, you come back and reflect upon how that impacts you or how that sits on you and your experiences. That’s how you can truly learn. When we learn with biases and stigmas in the back of our head, we are not truly learning. We are just trying to self-satisfy what we think is right, and so putting that aside, I think that’s the only way you truly gain someone else’ perspective on a new topic.

What does it mean to be a Learning Change Agent?

I think a learning change agent is someone who really pushes for experiences and new philosophies to be embedded in the learning, and also having their students to be a part of that process. Not that we are just telling the students that this is a new way of thinking, but giving those students those leading questions to get them to explore on their own to also be a part of that change agent process.

Photo Credit: Groupon

Learning Change Agents are game changers in education. They are affiliated with organizations that are providing meaningful and passion-driven learning experiences to learners of all ages. The featured Learning Change Agents (and their organization) will be eligible to receive funds from the LEARNtheBrand Impact Apparel. LEARNtheBrand Impact Apparel is a clothing line that consists of limited edition fashion T-shirts that include unique designs that focus on rebranding the perception of learning and education from test-driven and rote memorization to meaningful, relevant and passion driven learning experiences.  Customers and supporters of LEARNtheBrand Impact Apparel and these organizations will select the organization(s) that should receive a portion of the profits received from each collection. Visit and shop the online store hosted by Threadless. Together we are change agents.

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