When our Soapbox Nation submission box was flooded with powerful speeches by students from Fabiana Muench-Casanova’s classes – we just had to learn more about what was going so well in her Anaheim, CA classroom! 

This was Fabiana’s first year teaching Project Soapbox, and she used the curriculum in both of her 8th grade US History classes. Which means she gave 66 young people the opportunity to stand up and speak out about an issue that matters to them! 

She got creative and adapted the lessons to fit her students’ needs. Instead of setting aside a chunk of time to exclusively focus on developing and delivering speeches, she decided to sprinkle Soapbox throughout the school year. She started the year with the Creating a Democratic Classroom activities as a way to build community and set the tone. Then for each unit, she tied in elements of youth voice and issue identification to keep the content relevant to students. For example, when her students were learning about the British Colonies, Fabiana asked them to think about what issues people were facing that made them leave their home communities to start a new life in the colonies — and then to consider what kind of problems students see in their own communities. She describes that doing Project Soapbox over the course of the year, “…enriches my content and gives [students] more time to think about what the purpose of doing these speeches is.”

Another strategy Fabiana used was giving her students plenty of opportunities to practice their speeches in small, rotating groups. Each round, students gave their speech to 3 peer observers. And every rotation they would focus on a different component delivery: eye contact, tone, volume, etc. This way, her students got a lot of practice giving their speech in a low stakes environment before being in the spotlight. 

Fabiana’s most memorable moment from the Soapbox experience was witnessing a student use her speech as a chance to take a risk and be herself with her classmates. Fabiana describes this student as shy, someone who rarely speaks out in class. But she got up and gave a powerful speech about equal rights for LGBTQ communities, and then came out as part of that community herself! The whole class cheered and was very supportive. Fabiana says, “I don’t know if she would have had the courage to come out in another context.”  Major credit to Fabiana for creating a space where her student felt safe to share.

Fabiana wants to encourage others to do Soapbox with their students, too: “The moment is ripe for an assignment like this.” She says that with the pandemic exposing and exacerbating inequalities, it’s so important for young people to make their voice heard about their needs, and what they want to see in the future. She acknowledges that teachers can often expect the same vocal participants in class – but Soapbox ignites the quieter, lower-performing students too. She had her class vote on the top speeches, and they chose two struggling students who had come out of their shells in the process. “I saw them think, ‘Oh my God, I did something awesome!’ and it changed the trajectory of their grades for the rest of the year. Honestly. They went from not turning in work, or not being confident to, ‘Yeah! I got this.’ [Soapbox] gave them a sense of confidence that they would have never had without it.” 

We are so inspired by Fabiana and her students! For two excellent examples of her students’ work, watch Katelyn and Scott’s speeches. You can find all of them on the Soapbox Nation page. And we are still accepting submissions to Soapbox Nation until May 10, 2020! Here’s how students can participate.