GDS in Action

GDS in Action
by Dina Elboghdady


When the High School history department started brainstorming about coursework for its rigorous Upper-Level classes, the teachers thought about ways that would encourage students to do something, not just know something. Against that backdrop, Marjorie Hale* figured that “action research projects” were a no-brainer for students in her UL American Government and UL International Relations classes. After all, they were studying in the nation’s capital, just a stone’s throw from Congress and the rest of the federal government, not to mention a wide range of public interest groups. So starting in Fall 2020, Marjorie started asking her students to identify issues they’re passionate about and do something—at least three things—to influence them. “This assignment works because the kids really care,” Marjorie said. But Caring doesn’t always translate into succeeding, and that’s okay too. Students may not get a single response to letters they’ve written. Articles they hoped to publish may get rejected, and workshops they’ve organized may not attract a single person. “That teaches them something too,” Marjorie said. “Sometimes, when we push for change, we fail. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do good in the world.” 

*Marjorie was an HS history teacher for 11 years, and she’s currently in Colombia with her family for the school year. 

Here is what students have to say about some of the actions they’ve taken:

Iman Dorman '22


Highlighting Plight of Syrian Refugees

Iman grasped the human toll of the Syrian refugee crisis two years ago when she watched Salam Neighbor, a documentary that chronicled the plight of five displaced Syrians in Jordan’s Za’atari camp. For her action research project, Iman wanted to figure out how, or even if, she could do anything to help ease the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. She decided to sign up to provide online tutoring of Syrian refugee children in the Washington region through Solutions in Hometown Connections.

“This project opened my eyes to how international issues can play out at home,” Iman said. “It helped me track huge issues somewhere else in the world back to myself and my community. …It made me feel the scale of the problems.” 


Noura Angulo


Helping Asylum Seekers

Noura examined a Trump-era policy that turned away thousands of immigrants at the Southern border without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum. She designed a poster that highlighted the issue and posted 50 copies of it throughout GDS and her neighborhood. The poster provided a QR Code that linked to a form letter that anyone could send to President Biden urging him to repeal the policy. 

“I did research on what a form letter is, how to write it, and how to send it,” Noura said. “I took all the information I learned in my American Government class about how immigration laws are made and who enforces them and channeled it in a way that makes an impact on a topic I care about. …I got to understand how to connect with our government.”  


Shai Dweck


Combating Homelessness

Shai and Seth teamed up to challenge the federal government’s response to homelessness in the United States and its disproportionate impact on communities of color. The duo prepared a video that tracked the history of homelessness dating back to the pre-Civil War era. High School history teacher Topher Dunne, who collaborated on the video, plans to use it as a resource for Waging Life in the DMV, a track he teaches as part of the GDS Policy Institute summer program.

“We wanted to make sure that the legacy of our project will live on past our time at GDS and influence the education others get at School,” Seth said. 

Seth Riker

He added that he learned about how mental health and so many other social justice issues have

contributed to the rise in homelessness. Shai and Seth also released a one-episode podcast in which they discussed the relationship between homelessness and race as well as what steps listeners can take to help ease homelessness in their communities.

“This project showed me that it’s easy to become knowledgeable on an issue. The harder part is figuring out how to take that knowledge and make an actual impact,” Shai said. “I don’t know if we completely cracked that egg, but hopefully what we put out inspired people in some way.”


Zachary Jager


Bolstering Funding for Medical Research

Zachary explored the role of federal investment in medical research, focusing specifically on racial disparities and a legislative proposal that would create an agency designed to hasten life-saving medical innovations.

“You would think that NIH and CDC could do any research they want,” Zachary said. “But this project showed me there’s so much more out there for them to do if they could just get more funding.”

To do his part in bolstering research, Zachary arranged a fundraiser for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which is dedicated to finding cures for childhood cancers. As a pitcher for the GDS baseball team, Zachary had his friends and family donate money for every person he struck out or every game he played.

“I am hoping in the future that (federally-funded programs) will have more money and work alongside places like ALSF,” he said.

GDS in Action
  • Advocates
  • Engage Ethically
  • High School
  • History
  • Learn Actively