The Validation Project, a global youth empowerment organization, strives to teach students to recognize their worth and turn their passions into social change. Founded in 2013 by Valerie Weisler, then a high-school freshman, The Validation Project has reached over 6,000 teenagers in 105 countries so far.
Now a senior at Muhlenberg College, Weisler describes her inspiration for founding the project. She was bullied in high school and felt alone.
Bullying is prevalent throughout the country, harming young people in various ways. According to a 2019 CDC report on preventing bullying in schools, 20% of students were bullied on school grounds last year, and bullying occurs weekly in 14% of public schools.
Weisler explained that she experienced a “click moment” while witnessing another student bullied at school. “I felt like I had to do something and I knew I would have support from my Jewish community,” she said.
Since founding The Validation Project, Weisler’s Jewish community has been her “biggest support system.” Weisler grew up spending her summers at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, NY and served on USY’s “International Social Action/Tikkun General Board” throughout middle and high school.
Beginning her social justice work in these Jewish spaces helped shape her belief that she could start The Validation Project. Weisler recounted, “Through USY, I learned how to put an idea into action, and through Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, I knew firsthand the power of friendship and supportive adults who give youth the tools to make a positive impact.”
As her organization grew, so did her Jewish network. At the beginning, her USY friends led events at their conventions, and her Ramah counselors encouraged her to continue with her important work, “spreading it to their communities as well.” Later, the Foundation for Jewish Camps, USCJ, numerous synagogues, and The Covenant Foundation became partners, broadening the organization’s impact internationally.
The Validation Project utilizes various campaigns and tools empowering students to recognize their worth and transform their passions into action. These resources include a Resilience Workbook that provides prompts and activities to set goals and gain confidence, Popcorn Pop-ups to bring free screenings of social justice-themed films to young people, a Celebrity Ambassador Program that spreads the organization’s message on social media, and Bookmark, which helps educators use literature to spread the message of empowerment and social action. Weisler also designed a “pro-kindness curriculum” that is currently implemented in 1,000 schools to teach students and educators how to use entrepreneurship to solve problems in their communities. These programs reflect Weisler and The Validation Project’s commitment to validating each individual’s passions and interests, while providing the tools to make real change.
Weisler also works hands-on with students who experience bullying through her one-on-one mentoring program and through the establishment of Validation Project chapters in over 1,000 schools around the country. When describing the positive impact of these programs, Weisler shares, “I’ve gotten to see the immediate transformation that happens when I hand a student a marker and ask them what they care about. In 30 minutes, students ranging from age five to age 18 have full-fledged campaigns, ready to solve issues in their communities using their passions.”
The Validation Project is continuing to develop new ways to help students. Weisler is currently envisioning adding “a think tank where youth can work for free with policymakers and lawyers to solve the issues they face.” Weisler hopes to develop a “layered fundraising plan” within the next two years to allow her to run The Validation Project full time when she graduates from college in 2020.
Understandably, the current global pandemic has transformed much of The Validation Project’s programming, which relies on workshops in schools and in-person events. Once summer begins, the organization will be launching a virtual summer school, “with weekly workshops on Zoom teaching everything from how to draw a person, to how to cook, to how to be a storyteller.” Social media will be utilized to engage students and members of The Validation Project community from across the world. Plans include Instagram “takeovers” to show followers different parts of the world and sing-along sessions from international artists. Weisler is taking the lessons from this difficult time to strengthen her organization. “It’s been difficult to pivot so quickly,” she said, “but it’s causing me to ensure we are as accessible as possible – during this situation, and always moving forward.”
As the world changes and many young adults feel helpless, The Validation Project provides an inspiring example of how to turn a painful experience into positive change. It can take a single moment to spark a passion, whether it’s realizing you’re not alone, or advocating for a peer – each individual’s passion can transform into action. To create this change, Weisler’s advice is to “take advantage of the network you already have. Talk to your friends, your family, your rabbi, your teachers. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many people will tell you that you can’t do this: You can.”
By Molly Voit, for The Covenant Foundation
“There are children, grownups, everywhere
That would love to hear your voices
Singing for our health to be bright
So that we can join together...and paint our world with healing and hope”
-From the original song, Painting Our World with Healing Hope, by Karina and Debora Zilberman
“Families that share stories about parents and grandparents, about triumphs and failures, provide powerful models for children. Children understand who they are in the world not only through their individual experience, but through the filters of family stories that provide a sense of identity through historical time...Through sharing the past, families recreate themselves in the present, and project themselves into the future.”
—“Do You Know…” The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being
Read more about Dr. Marshall Duke and his work, here.
“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. They’re getting on with the work, they’re loving their kids, they’re loving their students, they’re loving their communities. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
“There are just two outcomes that really matter: First, that students feel Judaism is the fertile ground in which they get nurtured to grow, and second, that they find Judaism joyful.” Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director, JCC Manhattan
"Civil discourse requires us to listen generously and to act as though—and to really believe—we could be open to persuasion. We each may think: 'I did not cause this situation, I am not to blame.' Yet we each have the capacity to help society turn the corner, if we honestly ask what went wrong and what we can do about it."
- Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and Joseph William Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, Harvard University
The Wow Metric of Success: Jewish Life in Bloom on the Farm: Spring has arrived, and the Jewish community is busy planting with purpose. In Vaughan, Ontario, the yellow coltsfoot and purple-blue scilla are just starting to flower at the Kavanah Garden, a half acre community garden that’s part of Shoresh, the Canadian-based Jewish environmental organization that includes the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm. Last Sunday, on “Yom Manual Labor” volunteers gathered to turn the soil, plant seeds, paint outdoor tables and participate in construction projects with the Shoresh team, preparing the garden for growing season.
“Our Jewish community is only as strong as its ability to include all members in the fabric of Jewish life. Doing so helps each of us recognize the unique strengths we all bring to the Jewish community, and that community cannot possibly be complete until we actively and intentionally welcome each other.”
-Meredith Englander Polsky, 2017 Covenant Award Recipient, Director of Institutes and Training, Matan, and Developmental Support Coordinator, Temple Beth Ami Nursery School
“From all of my teachers, I have grown wise.” Psalms 119:99. Framing Jewish Education, a project of The Jewish Lens and supported by The Covenant Foundation, was created to engage teachers, students, and families in conversation about the value of Jewish education and to illustrate the power of great teaching and learning via a curriculum based on visual literacy and text.
“For me, study is a divine and daily imperative; I study a page of Talmud daily so that I am not only teaching. My teaching is constantly being fed by my learning.” —Erica Brown Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Human Development. Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, 2009 Covenant Award Recipient
The Covenant Classroom means something different to every educator but common goals are to motivate, engage and be inclusive of all learners. In this volume, we’ve collected an array of Teachings on Inspiration and Motivation in all areas of Education.
#ThankATeacher It has been twenty-five years since The Covenant Foundation first opened its doors, and we continue to be humbled by extraordinary Jewish educators from across North America and across the spectrum of Jewish life who have devoted their careers and considerable talents to the field of Jewish education. Now, in celebration of a quarter-century-old tradition of honoring Jewish education and educators, and to kick off a year of public engagement around great teaching, we’re proud to share The Covenant Foundation voices app with you: a new digital way to give and share your gratitude.
“What would it look like if we bet on Jewish early childhood education for the long-term, as our tradition instructs? The task might seem large, but the reward, we know, is great (Pirkei Avot 2:15).”
“Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every-day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.”
—Abby Levine, Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
This is how I see a “Covenant Classroom”: a place where challenging topics are passionately discussed; a place where complex ancient texts are grappled with; a place in which self- esteem grows, and motivation to learn increases exponentially because of it. An environment in which each Jewish soul is given the confidence to continue the eternal search for meaning.”
—Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County and 2015 Covenant Award Recipient
“When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way… When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.”
—Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History
“The future of Jewish teen engagement can in fact be found in 3D printers, and in text-people, and in service, and outdoor education, and in anything that brings teens into contact with authentic learning experiences and passionate, caring, knowledgeable educators.”
—Charlie Schwartz, Senior Jewish Educator, Director, BIMA & Genesis, Brandeis High School Programs
Portal seems like a particularly apt metaphor for entry points into Jewish life and learning because ultimately we want those experiences to be deeply experiential and transformative. We also want them to be accessible. A portal has no toll; passage is free. At the same time, a portal is particularistic, not a generic entrance. It conveys a sense of magic, ritual, and power. Similarly, we want to convey that Jewish life is rich, layered, and meaningful beyond what is immediately apparent. We want the encounter with Jewish life to take you on a journey that is profound and surprising. And, given that each of us may enter through the same portal but have a completely different experience of what is on the other "side," the possibilities are endless.
— Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, The Jewish Women’s Archive
"We need a new kind of creativity in the classroom that’s going to reach Jewish kids… If a teacher is imaginative, he or she is going to connect to students’ hearts and souls.”
—Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, Board Member, The Covenant Foundation.
"There are four types of students... The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on one side lets it out the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." —Pirkei Avot 5:15
"There’s a misconception that a venture must depend on large grants from big donors. It makes more sense and it’s more sustainable to test out an idea, and see whether it has the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives."
— Ariel Beery, founder, PresenTense
I think [creating new Jewish texts] is a really good description of what we’re trying to do. These days we’re increasingly creating products that are intended to be shared on the web. We’ve felt and continue to feel that this medium, and virtual communication as a whole, is being under-tapped for its possibilities for making art.
— Reflections from Sam Ball on the New Jewish Filmmaker Project