Engaged and passionate students learn more!
In 2014, Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) honored Samantha with the Samantha Smith Challenge (SSC) – a dynamic educational program for middle and high school students designed to build a bridge between the classroom and the world. Issues come alive when students are able to connect with AWTT portrait subjects who have actually fought for the same causes students identify.
As one teacher describes the experience, “My students were inspired by art and by Samantha Smith herself to become change-makers. They have practiced the important skills they will need to carry this forward into their adult lives….”
Connect with AWTT experts and activists today and bring the SSC to your students. The Samantha Smith Challenge encourages every student and classroom to take the journey of truth and hope right now.
Over 200 students participated in the 2021-2022 Samantha Smith Challenge, focusing on interconnectedness and the common good. Given a year when the pandemic, climate change, global migration, and many other issues have filled and affected our lives, students took these issues out of their separate silos and addressed their interconnectedness and how being connected guides us to work for the common good.
Students addressed how the trees of a forest are a community on which all life depends, mental health, bullying, art for activism, sharing the voices of youth identity with the wider community, support for Ukraine, and building future communities. They shared their projects on zoom for the Samantha Smith Challenge Celebration and heard inspirational words from AWTT artist Robert Shetterly, portrait subject Jaysa Hunter-Mellers, and Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows.
In December 1982, ten year old Samantha Smith of Manchester, Maine, asked her mother if there was going to be a war. She said, “I asked my mother who would start a war and why. She showed me a news magazine with a story about America and Russia, one that had a picture of the new Russian leader, Yuri Andropov, on the cover. We read it together. It seemed that the people in both Russia and America were worried that the other country would start a nuclear war. It all seemed so dumb to me. I had learned about the awful things that had happened during World War II, so I thought that nobody would ever want to have another war. I told Mom that she should write to Mr. Andropov to find out who was causing all the trouble. She said, ‘Why don’t you write to him?’ So I did.”
From that one question, a peace-making venture unfolded that brought Russian and American students together to seek truth, build understanding and appreciation of one another, and create hope by building connections instead of armies. Sadly, in August 1985, both Samantha and her father were killed in a plane crash. But Samantha’s memory lives on in her courageous example.
Following this example of seeking truth and hope through engaged citizenship, the Samantha Smith Challenge builds a bridge between the classroom and the community and shows students that, no matter what age, they can be part of solving the challenges and problems they see in the world.
Samantha’s journey began 40 years ago when she wrote a letter to Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov asking him to, “Please tell me how you are going to help to not have war.” Just a year later she was an eleven year old teaching adults and children how seeking truth leads to hope for peace and understanding. Her progress from concern to seeking truth and finding hope began with courageous engagement and a series of small steps and decisions—something each of us can do!
Each SSC model is listed with a brief explanation and standards from Common Core State Standards, CASEL’s social and emotional literacy standards, and 21st Century Learning Standards.
“Hope is power. Power is hope. The Samantha Smith Challenge helped me feel powerful and hopeful.”