While learning about the environment is not unusual in a sixth-grade science class, educators at Evergreen Middle School (EMS) near Redmond are taking their curriculum to the next level and teaching their students about some of the next steps they can take with that knowledge.
Those steps include social justice and after their last unit on the water cycle, the students wrote letters about their thoughts and concerns about the area’s watershed. To take things a step further, a group of seven sixth-graders read their letters in front of Redmond City Council at their meeting on Tuesday.
“We try to have community outreach for at least one unit a year,” said teacher Kerry Hanson, who went to the council meeting with the students.
Angie Kasper, another teacher, said the idea for the students to address council came up naturally after they wrote the letters and were thinking of where they could send the letter.
The entire sixth-grade class at EMS wrote letters, all of which council received.
And although most of the students who spoke Tuesday were nervous, those jitters didn’t last long.
Manovay Sharma said he has had practice speaking in front of audiences for class presentations and he knew he had strong arguments in his letter.
The students also noted that council members paid attention to them when they each stepped up to the podium and actually listened to what they had to say.
Hayden Daniels, one of the sixth-graders who addressed council, said they were treated as equals. Their ideas were not dismissed just because they were kids.
This was not insignificant to the group of youngsters.
For Faria Rashid, it was nice that the adults actually listened to them and gave them feedback right then and there.
Derek Thorp added that it is important to listen to the next generation.
“Aging happens. Eventually, we’re going to take over,” he said about young people.
Piya Modalavalasa, who admitted to being “kind of terrified” to address council, also acknowledged that it is rare for kids to speak out in situations such as a City Council meeting.
Some of the things the students discussed at the meeting included suggestions for things the city can do to be more environmentally friendly and take better care of the watershed.
One of those suggestions came from Jesus Ramirez, who said the city can plant rain gardens, which help reduce rain runoff and allow stormwater to soak into the ground.
“I was actually excited to get up to the podium,” he said.
Following his comments, Jesus was told that the city already has a couple of rain gardens in downtown.
Another suggestion Sophia Collins had was to plant more trees in Redmond and said the city should host an event to do so. She told council that while people think there are already a lot of trees around town, the truth is that trees are planted too close to homes and this forces people to cut down the trees.
Hanson, Kasper and fellow teacher Nick Woehlbrandt were incredibly proud of their students.
Hanson said they really want to invest in these kids’ futures and help them realize they have powerful voices and that “what (they) have to say matters.”
The students who spoke at the council meeting realized this and said they think they will speak out on other issues that they become concerned about.
“Everybody can make a difference in whatever they believe in,” Hayden said.