Winds of change
Teach for America alumni stayed to make a difference for Tulsa’s youth.
Andrew Spector and Jake Lerner co-founded Tulsa Changemakers, which later became a Leadership Tulsa program.
Don’t tell Andrew Spector and Jake Lerner that children should be seen and not heard. The program they developed, Tulsa Changemakers, empowers middle- and high-schoolers to make meaningful change in their schools and communities.
The idea came to these East Coasters shortly after they arrived in Tulsa in 2015 for Teach for America. Leaders in nonprofits, business and government made them feel welcome and valued.
In their classrooms, both new teachers were amazed at the leadership qualities of students as young as fifth grade. “They’re not just passive recipients of education,” Lerner says. “Adults should listen to them and allow their voices to rise.”
Tulsa Changemakers works mostly with teachers to identify students who are invited to apply. Once accepted, program participants learn how to identify problems, work collaboratively and put change into action. It all starts with a three-week listening campaign, during which students interview family members, classmates, teachers, administrators, neighbors and church members to determine key issues.
Last year, one group developed and implemented a student-led tutor/mentoring program in their schools. The other group planned and executed Diversity Field Day for students, which included team-building activities like partnership yoga and storytelling.
This year’s class of Changemakers is comprised of 21 students from Nathan Hale, McLain and their feeder schools. Participants meet weekly after school from October through May.
“Youth can make a real, measurable difference in the community now,” Spector says. Tulsa Changemakers’ vision is to make Tulsa a model city for youth-driven impact — by allowing students to lead the way.