What I really want to talk about…

May 14, 2012

The following is a speech given by our Brown University College Coordinator, Elena Maker, at a recent GC event after Providence Civics Day celebrating Mayor Taveras and our Board Chair, Mary Vascellaro. Elena, having worked with Generation Citizen for three years, has an amazing track-record of commitment to civic education and especially to her students. Her words are a powerful testament to the impact of our amazing Mentors. 

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As a campus coordinator and classroom Mentor who has been involved with Generation Citizen for three years now, there are many things I could stand up here and say this evening.

I could speak about how impressed I am at Generation Citizen’s enormous growth in only four years; an accomplishment that I believe speaks to the organization’s promise to help transform this country’s conception and implementation of civics education.

Alternatively, I could talk about the dedicated GC Mentors and staff who have sustained my enthusiasm and interest in this program for over three years now, thus taking this time as an opportunity to express how thankful I am to have the great privilege of being part of such an inspiring team.

Or, perhaps I could reflect upon how much Generation Citizen has both exposed me to and convinced me of the distressing inequality pervading our education system, but how it has also proved to me the value and impact of people passionately dedicated to improving the future of our country.

These are all extremely important things that I want you to know about Generation Citizen. But what I really want to talk to you about this evening, and what I want you to know most of all, is that my eighth graders at Roger Williams Middle School are truly awesome young people and I am so proud and excited to be here with at least some of them this evening.

These students have constantly awed me with their mature, wise perspectives on the world, their relentless energy and drive to pursue their goals, and their ability to imagine and create real change within their school community. But before expounding upon their accomplishments any further… I want to preface by saying emphasizing that the outstanding work that I now get the pleasure to tell you about is entirely the product of my students. My students, who true to the form of Generation Citizen, chose, pursued, and achieved their own vision of change.  

Because of these phenomenal young people, real strides have been taken to bring sex education to a school that currently offers no standard health education at all. The students have collected valuable data to prove that their peers could benefit from sex ed. They have started conversations to their school principal, the RI Commissioner of Education, Deborah Gist [thank you again for joining us last Wednesday Commissioner Gist!], and the education coordinator for Planned Parenthood… all to determine how to best educate their peers on health and sex, so as to ultimately prevent future pregnancies to young people not yet prepared to raise a child.  

But speaking to decision-makers wasn’t enough for my motivated students this spring. They also wanted to share what they had found about the challenges of young parenthood with all of their peers, so as to begin educating their classmates starting now. Thanks to these assemblies my students planned and conducted, the entire school community now has a stronger, more informed understanding of the impacts of teen pregnancy and parenthood on one’s education and overall life trajectory.

I was overwhelmed with pride during that day of the assemblies, when everyone put in 120 percent to ensure that the event was a complete success. When we realized that an older version of the survey had accidentally been printed, each and every student in the class immediately picked up a pencil and stack of surveys, and within twenty minutes every single survey has our most important question penciled in, helping us to discover that a full 86% of the eighth grade class would like sex ed. classes.

I was yet more full of admiration for their hard work this past Friday, when everyone stepped up to the challenge of preparing for Civics Day at, admittedly, the very last moment. Students fulfilled their tasks seriously and quickly; many even volunteered to stay after class to keep working. Evan and I drove away from that class glowing, and remarking on the unique, meaningful contributions of every single student.

In conclusion, I want to say thank you to these students for bringing to fruition the urgency and importance of addressing the current situation of teen parenthood in Rhode Island…. I spent all year tackling this issue in my thesis and yet, I have paled in comparison to what they have succeeded in doing this spring. Perhaps this reflects the power of young people, illuminated by the framework of Generation Citizen.

These students have taught me so much about teamwork, dedication, and sincere passion for making the world a better place. They will quickly tell you themselves that young people can make a change, but I want to take it a step further and tell you that young people are our best hope for change and that we need to keep striving to provide all youth with an education that gives them a chance to prove how smart and capable they truly are. 

 

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