SVVSD students learn about democracy from community leaders
By Amy Bounds, Staff Writer, Times-Call
About 65 St. Vrain Valley eighth graders came together with community leaders Tuesday to wrestle with difficult problems and develop solutions through the Doing Democracy Day program.
“We want to teach them how to be engaged citizens and learn how policy is made,” said Emily Swallow, a social studies teacher at Altona Middle School. “They can have their voices heard and listen to other voices.”
The program, now in its 10th year, offered both a middle school and a high school session this year, both at St. Vrain’s Innovation Center. This was the first year for a middle school event.
Kent Willmann, an instructor the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education, was one of the founders of Doing Democracy Day when he was teaching social studies at Silver Creek High School. The event, the brainchild of CU political scientist Ken Bickers, is designed to spark student interest.
“Kids realize local leaders are real people like them, and local leaders realize the kids are real people,” Willmann said.
Grouped together from different schools, students were assigned their topics Tuesday morning, then given the opportunity to conduct research and interview community leaders.Topics included vaping, school safety and teen homelessness.
“This is amazing,” said Boulder County Deputy District Attorney Anne Kelly as she talked to students about improving school safety. “These kids are so smart. I’m impressed.”
Each group then prepared a presentation to give to a panel of judges. The top three presentations were given before everyone at the event, with a single winner chosen.
The group working on screen addiction agreed that too much time on screens can be harmful, but struggled to find a way to regulate it.
Altona Middle School eighth grader Max Scherer said students can learn to manage screen time if they use iPads and cellphones in middle school.
“Kids should have the responsibility,” he said. “When you go off to college or are living in the real world, you have to be able to make the right decisions. It can be beneficial. You have to know both sides.”
Anna Eastland, an eighth grader at Sunset Middle School, said it might be better for middle schoolers to only have flip phones, but admitted the idea also would be wildly unpopular.
“If we said screens are now illegal, it would be anarchy,” she said.
Sarahi Carreon-Gonzalez, an eighth grader at Timberline PK-8, worked on the issue of autonomous cars — a good idea, but only with regulations, she said.
“I like learning, and this is a new experience for me,” she said.
Brieanna Carmenoros-Martinez, a student at Aspen Ridge Preparatory, proposed a peer counseling program as part of her work on the school safety team. Older students could work with younger kids, or there could be same-age mentors, she said.
“It could be easier to talk to someone your age because they might be going through the same things you are,” she said.
She said she wanted to attend the event to get better at talking to people she doesn’t know.
“This has been such a mind-opening event,” she said. “It’s interesting to hear everyone’s thoughts, and you can improve your own thoughts.”