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Building on experience

June 30, 2010
 This post was written by Gregg Kaufman, Public Achievement instructor at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Ga. GCSU is part of the  Civic Agency Project led by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Arshay Jones and Kierra Spikes

Arshay Jones and Kierra Spikes, two Baldwin County High School rising seniors, participated in a Georgia College Public Achievement pilot project in their sophomore year. They spent a semester working with their Public Achievement coaches and successfully researched opinions and subsequently presented a case for reconsidering the high school’s tardy policy to the Principal’s School Council, an advisory committee compromised of teachers, parents, and administrators.

More than a year later, a local newspaper article sparked them to use their Public Achievement skills again.
During the final week of the school year, the school board announced the implementation of a mandatory high school uniform policy to commence next autumn. This immediately resulted in concerns, particularly among the seniors.

Kierra called one of the Georgia College and State University professors who facilitated the PA pilot program. “May we come and speak with you?,” she said. “We have a concern about the school uniform policy.” 

Kierra, Arshay and the professor met later in the day and discussed the issue. The students were encouraged to list their concerns and consider what might be realistic relative to advocating for some compromise. They were determined to request an opportunity to speak before the school board to express their concerns and offer recommendations. The school superintendent responded to their letter of inquiry and placed them on the agenda for the next board meeting. Arshay and Kierra crafted their speaking points and created a “concerns chart.” The outcomes? The students made a positive impression and the following day’s “above-the-fold” newspaper headline was “High School Students Hoping to Tweak New Uniform Policy.” 

“The students displayed good leadership skills and they represented themselves and their senior class very well and we do appreciate them,” said the superintendent. The school board advised the students to meet with the high school principal to discuss policy modifications. Subsequently, the newspaper editorialized about the example the students set for responsible citizenship and commented on the quality of their argument. 

Two weeks after the board meeting, Kierra and Arshay met with the high school principal and discussed their concerns. “I’m meeting them halfway,” the principal told the newspaper in a subsequent story. “I’m willing to work with the student council to designate days when uniforms will not be required and consider several additional colors.” 

“We had to be realistic and seek compromise,” concluded Kierra and Arshay. In the mean time, they are planning a fashion show for the first week of school to show students how to spice up their uniforms! 

What is remarkable about this story is that this particular Public Achievement effort took place over three weeks. The time frame required the young people to be nimble in gathering their facts, launching a petition, seeking consultation, acting on their convictions, and complying with the democratic process in pursuing their concern. Once more, the coaching was minimal; however, their Public Achievement knowledge and skills were, indeed, public and productive.

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