On May 11th, at Generation Citizen’s Civics Day, Boston Arts Academy student Nadia Issa spoke to the crowd of 300 students, teachers, and elected officials about the need for a structured recycling program in her school. A few months prior, at the beginning of her GC semester, Nadia and her classmates had noticed the lack of recycling options when they were discussing potential issues to take action on. They also realized how difficult it would be to get students to recycle without a system in place. “We are wasting a lot of paper and plastic. We should have recycling bins in the cafeteria and classrooms. [But it will be difficult] to actually maintain this. Who’s going to empty out the recycling bins?’
On June 13th, Boston City Councilor At-Large Felix G. Arroyo, who had been a Civics Day guest speaker, and in the audience during Nadia’s speech, sent out this Tweet:
On June 19th, I was sitting in the Boston Arts Academy (BAA) main office with Councilor Arroyo, Nadia, and BAA teachers and administrators. “We should call it Nadia’s law,” Councilor Arroyo was telling Nadia. “Or maybe just here at the BAA. Have your picture on all the recycling bins.”
While the name and bin design may still be up in the air, Councilor Arroyo is moving forward with his petition to implement recycling in schools city-wide. The hearing may occur as early as July, and it would kick start the process for funding and coordinating a recycling program that would affect the entire Boston Public School district. All because of Generation Citizen students.
To me, this story captures what Generation Citizen is about: Recognizing that youth know the problems of their communities best and can be some of the most potent advocates for change. Creating opportunities for youth to identify and articulate these problems. Connecting youth to avenues for action, including the real decision-makers, like Councilor Arroyo, who can help put solutions into practice. GC’s curriculum provided a template and the Mentors and classroom teacher provided guidance, but it was fundamentally Nadia and her classmates who made change happen. “You could foresee a program that is run out of the entire district, with all of the schools participating,” Councilor Arroyo told Nadia in the BAA office. “But even in the meeting, I gave you credit for it,” he went on. “At the meeting, I said, I wish I could take credit for all of this, but it was an idea someone had at a Generation Citizen event.”
During Councilor Arroyo’s visit to Boston Arts Academy on Tuesday, he praised the school for their active citizenship offerings, which begin in 9th grade through Generation Citizen and culminate in a senior grant project. Fortunately, BAA is far from the only school that nurtures citizenship. In fact, at May’s Civics Day event, the Mayor of Malden, Gary Christenson, cited Generation Citizen students at Malden High School as primarily responsible for a slew of new initiatives that are being written into the Malden city budget, including Malden’s first ever teen center, a recreational department, and an expanded summer jobs program. “When you spend time with an organization, a program, like Generation Citizen and the dedicated teachers and students that we have at Malden high school, it’s a reminder to me that our future indeed remains very bright,” Mayor Christenson said in his Civics Day speech.
To date, Generation Citizen has worked with over 6,800 students in over 50 schools across 3 cities – and we have plans to reach over 20,000 students within the next five years. In partnership with our schools and college student Mentors, we are harnessing the potential of middle and high school students to create lasting community change. I am so excited to see what happens when that many students are given the space to identify and act on their ideas for change. This is a only a harbinger, you will be seeing our students’ names all over your Twitter feed:
Watch a clip of Councilor Arroyo’s meeting with Nadia here:
Follow the action on Twitter:
~Gillian Pressman, Boston Program Manager