2017-11-30 / Front Page

Eighth-graders look for ways to improve time management

Project aims at real-world change

When Lawn School teacher Maureen McGuirl asked her eighth-graders about their annual civics project, two of her three classes settled on similar topics. There’s no time like the present, they agreed.

According to McGuirl, the middle schoolers in her social studies classes were having trouble maintaining a schedule, saying they were stressed for time as they balanced their homework and extracurricular activities. That’s why the two classes chose separate aspects of time management for their Project

Citizen assignment, an annual civics lesson that was introduced to Lawn’s curriculum in 2003.

McGuirl said she understands why the choice was so popular.

“Once the school day ends, these kids are so busy,” she said. “How do you do all that?”

The two classes are approaching the subject differently. One side is developing a program to improve studying skills after school to save time, while the other class is introducing a period to receive teacher support during the school day.

After the students chose their topics, they conducted research to identify sources to support their proposals, such as newspaper articles and legislation. They also determined who the stakeholders were: Should this be a matter for the school board or the town councilors?

The classes were then broken into groups. One team determined solutions by weighing the advantages and disadvantages. A second group looked at alternative policies already on the books to determine whether their proposal was constitutional. The third group became the devil’s advocate, researching the opposing side of the issue.

Project Citizen, which was developed by the California nonprofit Center for Civic Education, is an introduction to public policymaking while increasing the students’ interest in local politics. By and large, her students didn’t think they could change the world.

“They were thinking that’s an adult thing,” she said. “In a republic, the fabric of it, and the most important part, are the citizens. If the citizens aren’t engaged and don’t know how to participate, then we might not have the strongest form of rule.”

McGuirl said Project Citizen gives students some hands-on experience about local government and how it works. She used the ongoing bicycle path issue in town as an example. “They’ve been working on that for eight years,” she said. “You have to come back to it because there’s always something that comes up as a variable.”

Project Citizen, she said, teaches students it takes more than “wiggling your nose” to get things done.

Since McGuirl introduced the initiative, some ideas presented by her students have extended far beyond her classroom. For example, the teen center started as a Project Citizen idea in 2003. However, it took four different classes to present the concept before the town established the program.

This year’s ambush on time management also has a shot at becoming reality. After a round of research, interviews and feedback, the students presented their ideas to the Lawn School Improvement Team. They are creating a three-month pilot program slated to start in January. According to the proposal, one period of the day would be set aside for students to determine ways to work studying into their busy schedules.

The team, which is a collection of teachers and parents, suggested students create an online survey at the start and end of the period. That way, they could ask fellow students whether their time was effectively used. Also, the surveys could determine if teachers saw improved test scores in those who participated.

Superintendent Ken Duva said he is a big fan of Project Citizen. While shadowing an eighth-grader for an unrelated faculty project, he happened upon a presentation for a representative from the Center for Civic Education. Not only was Duva intrigued by what he heard, he also noticed the topic mirrored work in the district’s strategic plan related to socio-emotional development. He invited the classes to present their findings at a professional development meeting with the entire staff.

“They’re talking about something they’re passionate about,” he said. “While listening to the students, I kept thinking we need to listen to a student voice and have the students involved in the decisions we’re making that impact them.”

After gathering feedback, the classes who covered time management will finalize their projects in March. They then will present their project at a school committee meeting. That’s when the students may learn if their ideas can become part of a more permanent solution.

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