Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Woonsocket North Smithfield 06-13-2019

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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24 WOONSOCKET JUNE 13-19, 2019 | VALLEY BREEZE | NORTH SMITHFIELD BLACKSTONE WOONSOCKET EDITION Middle school program works to combat low civic participation rates WOONSOCKET – According to data compiled by the Rhode Island Board of Elections, 48 percent of registered voters turned out to vote during the last election, less than half the adult population. That number drops as you move down the age groups, with only 26 percent of eligible voters born after 1996 voting in the average general election compared with 77 percent of those born between 1928 and 1945. The number spikes slightly during presidential election years, but not by much. In 2016, only 60 percent of registered voters of any age turned out to cast votes. The lack of civic participation is a problem many in the state are trying to combat, and in Woonsocket, edu- cators have decided the best solution is to start young. This year, students at the Woonsocket Middle Schools par- ticipated in Generation Citizen, a program designed to promote civic participation among middle and high school students. The program, found- ed by a group of Brown University students in 2008, uses an action- based curriculum requiring students to not only learn about but to take part in the civic process. "There's a traditional way to approach social studies, and it's really heavily lecture-based," said Tom Kerr-Vanderslice, executive director of Generation Citizen. "We pull in experiential learning in civics." On May 24, the schools hosted a district-wide Civics Day to give 7th- and 8th-grade students the chance to show off their semester-long proj- ects. As part of the project, students chose topics of importance in their community and sat down in groups to develop action plans on how to address them. Topics included bully- ing, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual assault, tardiness and violence in schools, all reflections of the issues students felt were most pressing in their community. Students also brainstormed a list of people who might be able to influ- ence the situation and wrote phone and email scripts for how they would reach out to those individuals. On May 13, they brought their projects to the Statehouse for a statewide civics celebration that included the chance to pitch their ideas to legisla- tors. Liz Paolella, an 8th-grade social studies teacher at Hamlet Middle School, said it was the first time many of her students had a chance to take part in the civic process. "Our kids felt so empowered. They felt like they had a voice. They were so professional," she said. One of those students was Anthony Candelario, an 8th-grader who did his project on sexual assault and drug and alcohol abuse among students. Candelario told The Breeze he thinks these topics affect students as young as 6th grade, and the middle school health curriculum needs to do a bet- ter job of addressing them. "My 7th-grade year, we mainly watched movies," he said about his health class. "We actually want to push for this for next year." Candelario, with the support of Principal,Jennifer Renigaldo, submit- ted his suggestions for the health cur- riculum to the Education Department and School Committee, which plans to discuss the topic at its next cur- riculum subcommittee meeting. Renigaldo said she thinks student voice is an important piece for school growth and is hopeful to see what comes out of the project. Candelario got a head start in civic participation last year when he spoke at the Statehouse on behalf of the C3 Center, a youth center run by NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley. For some of his peers, howev- er, the project was the first exposure they'd had to the civic process, and could potentially be the last depend- ing on where their high school jour- ney takes them. The state of Rhode Island does not require civics as part of the high school curriculum, and many schools don't teach it, an over- sight Kerr-Vanderslice sees as part of a larger problem. "A huge majority are not teaching civics, and it's perpetuating this really big problem of more students not knowing about their government and not feeling inclined to participate," By LAUREN CLEM Valley Breeze Staff Writer lauren@valleybreeze.com AARON KELLY, ENRIQUE CRUZADO, JAMIE BRANNON and MARIAMA JOBE, all 7th-grade students at Hamlet Middle School, chose lowering the working age for their civics project. See CIVICS, Page 32 We deliver the highest caliber of medical and rehabilitative care, with the compassion, kindness and respect every patient deserves. Schedule a tour Call Today! 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