Community Change Makers

School and teacher win awards from Generation Citizen for researching and developing Student Council

Posing with their winning Change Maker Award at the Rhode Island State House are, 1st row, from left, Chelsea Mata, Kimberly Garcia and Samuel Clerjuste.  Back row, from left are: Luis Liranzo, teacher Juanita Montes de Oca, Sean Mannings and Franklin Cruz.

Posing with their winning Change Maker Award at the Rhode Island State House are, 1st row, from left, Chelsea Mata, Kimberly Garcia and Samuel Clerjuste. Back row, from left are: Luis Liranzo, teacher Juanita Montes de Oca, Sean Mannings and Franklin Cruz.

The sixth graders in Juanita Montes De Oca’s Discovery Zone class at Roger Williams Middle School (RWMS) may be young, but they know that their voice matters. With the help of Brown University freshman Sean Mannings, this semester the students worked on a Generation Citizen project to establish a student council at RWMS.

The project aims to provide opportunities for students to voice their concerns and opinions about school policies and events. The idea was spurred from a discussion about whether the school should spend more money on upgrading technology in classrooms or repairing the facilities. Students on both sides of the debate agreed that they just wanted to have a chance to play a role in how decisions that directly affect them are made in the school.

After doing some research about student representation, the students realized there was no formal mechanism to become involved in RWMS. They also found that organizations that promote student voice, like student councils, boost students’ self-confidence and have overall positive effects on learning environments when they foster the feeling that the students’ input matters.

The students engaged different members of RWMS in an attempt to rally support for the student council. They collected over 500 signatures from students, sent emails to teachers, and a few attended a School Improvement Team meeting to promote their idea. Eventually, the students met with their principal, Jennifer Vorro, to present their project and request support. The students’ project confirmed the importance of an existing school-led initiative to create opportunities for student voice for the upcoming academic year.

At Civics Day in May, the sixth-grade Generation Citizen class took home the overall middle school Change Maker award for “Building an active democracy and making community change.” Montes De Oca received the overall Teacher Change Maker for “strengthening our democracy by engaging community and youth.” Though the excitement of Civics Day may be past, the class’s work is far from over.

Since Civics Day, the students have laid out a plan for how they are going to structure the student council and then implement it for the following school year. They held a weeklong constitutional convention, working through the details of what the organization will hopefully look like and how it will operate.

The students have come to see this as more than just a school project. It is their chance to create lasting change that will impact and empower future students that pass through the halls of RWMS for years and years to come. With strengthened resolve from their success at Civics Day, the students push onward, closer to their goal and their vision of a more actively involved student body.

This article was submitted by Sean Mannings of Brown University.

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