Moral Heroes: Finding Inspiration in Fearlessness, Persistence and Compassion

IIf you judge people, you have no time to love them. These words, attributed to Saint Mother Teresa, served as the inspiration for third grader Sienna Liddicoat to research Mother Teresa’s work of tirelessly helping others. “She did everything to help the poor,” shared Liddicoat. This is one of the presentations by second and third graders at Mount Madonna School, as part of an annual project that explores the lives and contributions of prominent historical figures and social figures that have created positive change.

On a recent afternoon their classroom was a-buzz with lively discussion, and the sharing of handcrafted exhibits created by each student as a part of a “living museum.” A sampling of the moral heroes that came alive through this presentation were as varied as John Muir and his work for preserving natural spaces to leaders in the Civil Rights Movement, like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., represented through an original poem by classmate Colby Saunders, to Stevie Wonder, who second grader Cassiano Konig commemorated through photos and discussion of his humanitarian work.

Third grader Nina Lima Teachout learned that not only did Clara Barton start the Red Cross in the United States, she was a highly-regarded teacher starting at the age of 15. In addition, she was a pioneer in the suffrage movement, was noted for saying, “I may sometimes be willing to teach for nothing, but if paid at all I shall never do a man’s work for less than a man’s pay.” Teachout said she feels motivated to continue working toward gender equality after studying Barton’s life. Student Kenzie Culbertson was inspired by the work of Hilary Rodham Clinton for gender equality, stating, “She started working really young for the rights of women.”

Teacher Hamsa Heinrich confirmed that this spirit of inspiration is natural outcome of the project.

“As the students gain deeper levels of knowledge about their moral hero’s life and historical setting, the more their admiration and enthusiasm grows. This is then reflected in their writing, art, poetry and speaking, which comes through in their presentations.”

This project serves as a powerful and concrete form of teaching positive character development, especially through the act of persistence, which is a central component to the work done in the classroom at Mount Madonna. When student Cora Kayne was asked what surprised her most while studying activist Helen Keller, she replied, “she was the first blind, deaf and mute person to go to a regular college and she earned a bachelor’s degree. That wasn’t easy because she learned how to communicate with her hands from her teacher Annie Sullivan.”

Second grader Harrison Rhodes researched track and field Olympian, Jesse Owens. He was the most successful Olympian at the 1936 Berlin Games and, as an African American man, helped to dispel the myth of Aryan supremacy propagated by Adolf Hitler at that time. “He proved that he could be an athlete when he joined the Olympics and proved Hitler wrong,” said Rhodes.

“The moral hero project is always inspirational,” observed Heinrich. “The subject matter is amazing. Reading about people with incredible persistence in the face of overwhelming obstacles, who held helping others as a priority, never fails to encourage us all.”

It is evident that the courageous work of these people sinks deeper for these students after discussing their lives with peers and adults, rather than simply reading about them in a book. The visitors seemed equally stirred by these stories. It is heartening to see the sharing and collaboration of ideas that comes about from this project that the children will carry for years to come.

“I never tire of hearing about the transformation of Helen Keller into an elegant speaker and advocate of other blind and deaf people or the determination of Rosa Parks to refuse to give up her seat on the bus!” noted Heinrich. “It’s a highlight to see the children not only share what they have learned, but to see how they have been affected by that knowledge.”


– By Prema Gammons

– Photos by Claire Azar

Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Director of Marketing & Communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville