Karen Kielbon’s seventh-grade social studies class at Horizon Middle School in the Central Valley School District could have been learning about how government works from their books. But the lessons may not have stuck with them as much as the hands-on activities they have been involved with for the past couple of months.
Students identified a problem in their community and are now approaching local and state governments to help solve it. They noticed Browns Park across the street from University High School on 32nd Avenue and Pines Road was becoming a troublesome area. The men’s bathroom had graffiti on the walls and drug paraphernalia littered the floor. Cigarette butts were strewn across the grass as well as empty and broken alcohol containers.
Kielbon used curriculum called Project Citizen which was developed by the Center for Civic Education and the U.S. Department of Education. Students learn how to identify a problem, look for solutions, propose a rule or a policy and develop an action plan.
Brad Trono, a student in Kielbon’s class, said they chose the park because it is close to their school and the high school.
“There was a lot of drug-related stuff (in the park), Trono said.
Ty Humbles said they reached out to the police department, the principal of the high school and even city employees.
“We went to interview (Spokane Valley Parks and Recreation Director) Mike Stone,” said Ian Miller.
Their plan is three-pronged: convince the city to pass ordinances establishing parks as no smoking zones, install cameras to monitor criminal activity and better enforcement by police of shop owners asking for identification on all sales of alcohol and tobacco. They even researched the constitutionality of installing cameras.
“There is nothing in the Constitution that says you can’t install cameras,” said Zac White.
Morgan Clark said that according to the Washington State Constitution, they must post signs about the cameras to avoid invading anyone’s privacy.
They took this plan to Olympia earlier this month to participate in the Project Citizen State Showcase. They outlined their proposal to a panel of three judges – a retired teacher, an attorney and a state representative from Seattle.
“Cole (Entringer) kind of showed up the judge,” White said.
Entringer said the judge took issue with the class’s three-pronged approach to the problem since each showcase was supposed to come up with only one proposal. He told the judge the problems are all interrelated and all contribute to the condition of the park.
“You can’t have one without the others,” Entringer said.
Kielbon said the judges were impressed with the students’ knowledge of the problem and its solution. Entringer said he wasn’t intimidated by the judge since they have been working on the project for so long he was confident in their work.
Since they have pointed out the problems at Browns Park to city officials, many of the problems have been addressed. The men’s bathroom walls have been painted over and much of the garbage has been removed.
“It’s cool people are willing to support our idea,” said Braden Gamble.
But the class isn’t stopping here. They are now working on a proposal to the city of Spokane Valley to add “No Smoking” to its list of posted park rules. Stone told them recently he hopes to get the class on the city council’s agenda.
Miller said the project has taught him something beyond what he could have learned from a book.
“Kids our age can actually make a difference, actually do something,” Miller said.