Student project focuses on civic engagement 

BRYAN EATON/Staff photoMolin Upper Elementary students Kyle Lisauskas, left, and James Moore, both 10, check out civic engagement displays of work done by Nock Middle School students. The one on the left was completed by Cassidy Anderson and focused on beach pollution. The one on the right, created by Sydney Turner, focused on the opioid crisis.

NEWBURYPORT — Eighth-graders at Rupert A. Nock Middle School have been practicing civic engagement throughout the year and presented their action plans Monday morning.

Beginning in September, social studies teachers Jennifer Groskin and Kyle Boudreau guided students who were developing “I am We” projects. In their presentations, students reflected on their identity, including their passions and beliefs.

The students began learning about community members and how they are engaged in the city, Boudreau said.

Social studies teachers invited several members of the community to speak about what’s going on in their neighborhoods. School Committee members and city councilors, including Afroz Khan, visited eighth-grade classrooms to explain their roles and how students can remain engaged and active with town officials.

In January, students began researching their topics and mapping out a civic action plan. For example, some students visited a homeless shelter or volunteered at a soup kitchen if their topic was related to those social issues.

Boudreau said the purpose of the civic action piece was to engage with others in the community who they might not normally speak to on a regular basis.

Some students held interviews and attended meetings, including Aquinnah Wehrwein, an eighth-grader at Nock who researched the topic of abortion and attended a Women in Action Huddle meeting.

“We’re trying to help or encourage students to find their own civic voice and to participate so hopefully when they get older, they won’t just vote but they’ll get involved in their community, they’ll learn about what the community’s needs are and stay involved,” Boudreau said. “A lot of the time, people are checking out of civic organizations these days.”

Groskin noted that most of the projects are local and relate to ongoing issues in Newburyport. Several students chose to research hunger, so for their civic action, they partnered with Our Neighbors’ Table for the Fill a Bag project, which initially raised $1,000.

“You can see their impact when they do it right away,” Groskin said.

In addition, another group of students created a video of the bike lanes in Newburyport and worked with Livable Streets, a community advocacy organization whose goal is to make it easier for people to bike and walk throughout the city.

“They’re hoping to present their project to the City Council,” Groskin added.

Although the majority of students chose to keep their civic engagement local, students such as Leela Kowalski chose to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS in Mozambique, Africa, through an infographic featuring the risks of the diseases that she posted on social media.

“My parents work for World Education and John Snow Inc. to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS,” Kowalski said.

She added that her parents help educate people in Africa and advocate for testing through these two organizations.

“My mom just got back from a trip,” she said.

Groskin and Boudreau agreed this project is essential for students to complete because it teaches them how their voices can be heard in their own community and how that can have an impact in the future.

“We’ve had some good community actions,” Groskin said. “They’re thinking about change, not just big change, but how change can affect your everyday experience.”

Amanda Getchell covers Newburyport and Seabrook. Follow her on Twitter @ajgetch. 

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