The Samantha Smith Challenge

Samantha Smith Portrait by Robert Shetterly


Educating Compassionate, Courageous, and Engaged Citizens

Get the 2021-2022 Guidelines here! 



The Samantha Smith Challenge (SSC) is a dynamic educational program for middle and high school students that uses the creative arts to build a bridge between the classroom and the world as students become compassionate, courageous, and engaged citizens. SSC projects teach students that, no matter what age, they can be part of solving the challenges and problems they see around them and work for the common good.


SSC 2021-2022 Samantha Smith Challenge

As Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) looks at the past year and the months ahead, we believe it is important to ask students this year to focus SSC projects on two concerns:

  • Interconnectedness
  • The common good 

Not sure what we mean? This has been a year when the pandemic, climate change, global migration, and many other issues have filled and affected our lives. Although we try to put these issues in their separate silos, they and many other issues are connected.

  • Do people migrate because climate change has made their homes uninhabitable?
  • Has the pandemic brought the loss of a family member, a job, access to education? 
  • How do the root causes of climate change increase the risk of pandemics?
  • Or, on a more individual level, how does being a bully connect to one's self-esteem?

These concerns influence all of our lives in some way. Our interconnectedness must guide us to work for the common good.

Political philosopher Michael Sandel states:

The common good is about how we live together in community. It's about the ethical ideals we strive for together, the benefits and burdens we share, the sacrifices we make for one another. It's about the lessons we learn from one another about how to live a good and decent life.

AWWT portrait subjects see both the interconnectedness of our world and the importance of working for the common good. Check out:

AWTT portrait of Zyahna BryantZyahna Bryant
Alicia Garza
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha
Amara Ifeji
Florence Reed 
Lily Yeh 

They give us a sense of how we are all interconnected and how we can all work for the common good. 

AWTT's art-as-activism gives students the chance to consider seemingly disparate issues and find commonalities. As we like to say, building the big tent and breaking down the silos. As AWTT portrait subject Natasha Mayers states:

We need artists to help explain what is happening in this country, to tell the truth and reveal the lies, to be willing to say the emperor has no clothes, to create moral indignation, to envision alternatives, to reinvent language. We need artists to help us come together and share our voices and build community around powerful issues concerning our roles in the world and our planet's survival. Compassion must be translated into action. 


AWTT portrait subject Lily Yeh

When I see brokenness, poverty and crime in inner cities, I also see the enormous potential and readiness for transformation and rebirth. We are creating an art form that comes from the heart and reflects the pain and sorrow of people's lives. It also expresses joy, beauty, and love. This process lays the foundation of building a genuine community in which people are reconnected with their families, sustained by meaningful work, nurtured by the care from each other and will together raise and educate their children. Then we witness social change in action. 

AWTT founder and artist Robert Shetterly  

Art can transform the way a message is articulated and received. The medium of art is aesthetic, visual, and visceral. Non-verbal. It doesn't attack the viewer but invites inquiry and participation. It gives the viewer space to think, feel, react and respond ... or not. The viewer becomes the active participant. 

Caitlin Hutt, Warsaw Middle School (SSC 2021)
As I write this, I'm reminded of the first year I signed up for SSC. I ... couldn't believe how perfectly the project fit with the unit plans I had developed for our "You Be the Judge: Justice Through Art" project.
Students (2019 SSC)
"This project changed our lives!"
Rachel Maloney-Hawkins, King Middle School (SSC 2021)
What a remarkable experinec to be able to be a part of something meaningful and far reaching during these times. All of the projects that the different schools created and implemented in their communiteis were inspiring and impressive.
Carson Brown, student (SSC 2019)
"Hope is power, power is hope. The Samantha Smith Challenge helped me feelpowerful and hopeful."
Tristan Green, student (SSC 2019)
"The Samantha Smith Challenge inspiredus to take action on these issues that have been going on for decades and inspired us not to be couch potatoes."
Teacher from SSC 2018-2019
"SSC provides students opportunities to participate in genuine learning and create authentic products. It provides them with real reasonsto participate in their schooling."
Teacher, 2019 SSC
"We were able to connect with two truth tellers this year. These interviews really made a huge difference for the students who were able to participate in them."
Mary Ellen Tracy
I teach at one of the schools which Samantha Smith attended. Because of this, when I heard about thisSamantha Smith Challenge (click to sign up your students)I was excited to learn more.
David Hilton
I know my time with my students will have been worthwhile if, at the end of our class, each child has grown as a citizen. I want my students to learn to be aware, empathetic, and active. The Samantha Smith Challengefits right into this approach.
Adele Drake
Robert Shetterly's portraits cut to the chase in a compelling way. Students could access the profound sentiments that these portraits represent.
Dr. Elisa Díaz-Martínez
Robert’s Americans Who Tell the Truth has become a distinctive and profound way of teaching American History and American Thought...His work will help us advance towards common understanding and tolerance.
Karyn Field
During the 2013/2014 school year, teachers Karyn Field and Sharyn Hastings used the AWTT portraits and resources to help students analyze "themes related to scapegoating, intolerance and social strife." Students wrote poems, orchestrated press conference
Laurie Solchenberger
I am a special and regular educator in Madison, WI. My students used your images to discuss how some people choose to do amazing things with their lives: some in big ways, some in small ways, but always by finding something they believe in.
Kristen Zoeller
Finally, I was shown people of all backgrounds who had made a difference; finally, I found people who were so normal, who I could relate to, and yet were so profound. Suddenly, there was no more excuse.

SSC Guidelines

Includes resources, classroom activities, and a detailed step-by-step guide to participating in the 2021-2022 SSC

View the Guidelines here

SSC Standards

Many teachers want to know how the SSC fits with standards. Nancy Doda, PhD, has compiled a list of "Power Standards" addressed by SSC activities.

Download the SSC guide to educational standards

SSC Calendar

November 1, 2021:  SSC Guidelines Available; 7th Annual SSC Registration Opens

November 1, 2021 - February 18, 2022: Complete "Get to Know AWTT" activity and submit SSC registration form

March/April 2022: SSC workshops/school visits

May 15, 2022: SSC project reports submitted to AWTT

June 6, 2022: Everyone attends the Samantha Smith Day celebration! 

SSC Registration

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SSC Individual Registration

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