Eighth Graders Speak to the value of Civics Projects (Updated)

[Updated (5/31/24 6:51 pm) Editor’s Note: I initially forgot to adjust the byline which defaults to Beth Melo to reflect that this story was written by intern Laney Halsey.]

In a previous article, I shared the Trottier Middle School teacher perspective on the civics projects that are mandated for eighth grade students in Massachusetts. Recently, I followed up to hear directly from some NSBORO students about their experiences.

The projects are designed to engage students with their community and to teach them skills like problem solving and researching. Although the Northborough and Southborough middle schools differ in the format of their projects, they both encourage students to view their communities as places where they can make impactful change.

Trottier students work on a presentation, while Northborough’s Melican Middle School students write a research paper.

Trottier eighth graders Reeth Malhotra, Hannah Varghese, and Trisha Veetil all attended an event put on by the National Social Studies Honor Society in the Algonquin library. At the event, members of the honor society assisted the students with their project which aimed at lowering the speed limit on Oak Hill Road and identifying other streets in the community that are considered dangerous for pedestrians and drivers.

“We reflected back on the town and we realized that there has been unsafe driving across Southborough and we wanted to change that,” Malhotra said.

After identifying the problem, they reached out to sources to get more information.

“We contacted other people that are important across the town like our chief [of police] and the department of public works people and select board members and asked them about any advice they had to target this,” Varghese said.

Furthermore, they contacted members of the community.

“We also did google forms that we sent to students and parents about what they think about road safety and how many times they’ve experienced unsafe driving,” Veetil said.

The end result of this work is a more civically-minded student body.

“It gave us an opportunity to civically engage with our town and I don’t think we would have done that if it wasn’t for this project,” Malhotra said.

Along with this, the lessons learned are incredibly valuable.

“It taught us a lot about what goes on around our town and what we could improve in our town and how to get our voices out as students to help make change,” Varghese said. “We’re just trying to make it safe so that Southborough is a safer community.”

Melican eighth grader Aidan Stiles recommended another way to improve the community. Although there is a financial literacy class at Algonquin, he advocated for the implementation of a class at the middle school level that will teach students how to handle their money.

“I think it’s important for middle schoolers to learn about financial literacy because there are so many courses at Algonquin so they just might not want to take the financial literacy class,” Stiles said. “That’s why I wanted to do it at an earlier level so they won’t have an option. At least they’ll get the baseline of it and they won’t feel left out if they feel concerned about anything in the future.”

He expects the positive impacts to extend beyond the classroom.

“I believe it can help stabilize our economy, it can lead to better jobs, and people will feel more confident about what they can do with their money,” Stiles said.

Similar to the Trottier students, much of their goals are based on improving human wellbeing.

“Most of the research that I did was on the economy and about how better paying jobs can help with people’s overall health,” Stiles said.

Emilia Loizeaux shared this view in her write-up, calling for volunteer hours to be a mandatory requirement for Algonquin students.

“The three paragraphs that I’m writing are about how [volunteering] benefits the students and gets them out into the world,” Loizeaux said.

As a junior at Algonquin, we are executing projects similar to these in my AP World History class called the ‘Save the World Projects’. While these projects are situated within a global context, they build on the skills that the eighth graders are developing now. The ideals of community and creating a better world are universal and important.

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