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Civic Impact

Hear Me stories start Wilkinsburg campaign for school change

Listening to kids' ideas for changing their schools and communities is the impetus behind the Hear Me project, whose latest recordings highlight some Wilkinsburg High School students with the ambition of improving their educational experience.
 
Jessica Kaminsky, a Hear Me project manager, says the students are all part of a neighborhood project called FUSE  -- Fostering Skills for Urban kids through Social-emotional-literacy Education.
 
“They stood out at Wilkinsburg High School," Kaminsky says. "They’re very proactive in their education and they’re very concerned with Wilkinsburg High School. They asked us at Hear Me to listen to what concerns them.”
 
Their number one concern: the seeming lack of structure in their high school. “There aren’t enough rules -- and the rules aren’t followed well” or consistently by students, teachers or administrators, the kids say in their stories, as Kaminsky summarizes them.
 
“It’s been a really powerful tool for them to have talked about these issues," she says. "They brought [the stories] to the school board meeting this week. They did a very good job of opening up a dialog” with school-board members.
 
Ryan Hoffman, Hear Me project coordinator, reports that the students plan to pull ideas and phrases from their recordings to put on t-shirts, and then create other ways of spreading their message beyond the stories. The audio recordings will thus be a launching point for a longer campaign.
 
"The students were able to talk one-on-one with the school board members, many of whom were surprised to hear the issues in the high school," says Hoffman. One school-board member approached four of the students to ask questions about their stories. "He was surprised to hear that students didn’t feel safe in school and about the lack of student-teacher relationships," Hoffman reports. The board member then invited the students to a community relations and school image committee meeting, and to attend future school-board meetings as the board's youth voice.
 
“They’re a group of hard working students who really want a great education," Kaminsky marvels,  "and they’re willing to put the work in.”
 
Hear Me is a project of Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab (Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment).
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Jessica Kaminsky and Ryan Hoffman, Hear Me
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