Speak Up, Speak Out

Speak Up Speak Out

Looking to make a lasting difference in their own neighborhood, seventh- and eighth-graders launched a new unit tied to civic involvement.
Smith Middle School STEM Academy students began their newest large project with a conference that attracted a dozen local leaders from business, military, education and service sectors in the community.
Between a motivational introduction and closing in the school library Wednesday, seventh-graders rotated to five classes to hear personally from Killeen area leaders and to begin brainstorming problems and solutions.
Smith English teacher Katie Drake said the interdisciplinary unit will result in about 60 different small group projects each aimed at an identified problem with a viable solution.
The top three projects, based on a vote during the culminating presentations in November, will move into a state competition. The effort is based on a University of Texas program called Speak Up! Speak Out!
“One goal today was for students to be able to speak to community leaders, to supply a face-to-face opportunity. We challenged our presenters to share their own unique perspective to help students brainstorm ideas.”

Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra, KISD Superintendent John Craft and Central Texas College Deputy Chancellor Tina Ady joined representatives from the University of Texas, the Harker Heights library, Fort Hood and other organizations to interact with Smith students.
UT Outreach Program Coordinator Heather Vaughn challenged seventh-graders to consider what bothers them in their school and neighborhoods and to consider ways to address those issues rather than to simply complain.
She introduced the Civic Health Index, which measures social connectedness (knowing your neighbors), community involvement (volunteerism) and civic participation (action such as voting and petitioning).
“When you think about what you want to do, look around and ask ‘what bothers me?’’’ she said. “Sometimes we complain, but don’t do anything about it.” Students pointed out problems such as littering, students in financial need and access to technology.
In another presentation, the CTC deputy chancellor urged students to research the causes of their chosen problem and to analyze solutions, implement a solution and evaluate the results.
During the conference introduction, KISD STEM Director Cynthia Hodges motivated students to take advantage of the opportunity to make a positive difference. STEM education, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math is also about helping the community and building ethical character, she said.
After five sessions, Drake said she was impressed with her students’ questions.
“Our students had the chance to ask unique questions,” she said. “They were digging into the presenters’ backgrounds. I liked that they were thinking about smaller steps. They were asking ‘How did your childhood lead you to this point?’”
A goal of the Project-Based Learning model the academy uses is to engage a broader audience. “The large goal is to share our learning with the community and to include a call to action,” Drake said. “The students are driving their call to action and that is powerful.”
The Rev. Samuel Powell of the Killeen NAACP talked about helping people who can’t help themselves. A group of soldiers talked about helping communities through raising money, food and toys, as well as raising awareness about hazards like low-water crossings.
In the end, the school district superintendent pointed out to seventh-graders they are a decade away from shaping policy that will define their nation. In a recent trip to Washington, D.C., Craft said he noticed that congressional staff members are young people in their twenties.
“In 10 years, that will be you,” he said to middle school students. “You can decide what our community will look like.” He urged middle school students to set goals and expectations high and to work hard to achieve solutions.
“What they will learn will translate to solving problems in science and other classes and outside of class,” Drake said. “This experience will lead to volunteerism and to being strong young leaders in the community.”