Bell assists as Fairview Elementary studies school breakfast program
In January, when the legislature's Joint Budget Committee voted to cut some of the funding for the school-breakfast program, the fifth-graders at Fairview Elementary School in Denver's Sun Valley neighborhood took notice.
This was an issue these kids understood, as most of them benefit from free or reduced-price meals at school. And the fifth-graders would soon be picking a public policy issue to study as part of Project Citizen.
Project Citizen is a program of the Center for Civic Education that teaches students how to monitor and influence public policy. The goal is to "develop support for democratic values and principles."
Once the students in Mr. Don Diehl's class settled on a topic – Should the state of Colorado continue to fund the Start Smart breakfast program? – they got to work.
They learned that the Bell Policy Center did some of the research behind Senate Bill 59 in 2007. The bill established the Start Smart breakfast program.
The students invited Rich Jones, the Bell's director of policy and research, to visit the class and explain how a bill becomes law, and what role research plays in crafting legislation.
In 2007, the Bell testified in favor of the bill, saying that "research has consistently found that students who participate in (school breakfast programs) have more nutritious diets, do better academically and have fewer behavioral problems."
The students spoke to advocates for the program, and they sought out speakers who would argue against the program. A public relations expert visited the class to explain the importance of publicity and to help the class with a press release.
One speaker was able to provide up-close-and-personal experience: Rep. Mark Ferrandino, the House member who represents the Sun Valley neighborhood and a member of the Joint Budget Committee.
The students had pointed questions about the vote in the Joint Budget Committee (which ultimately was changed). Ferrandino was careful not to point fingers, and he explained that lawmakers often have different philosophies on issues. The art of lawmaking is seeking common ground and compromise, he said.
This week, a team of Fairview students presented the class's research and findings at the Colorado Capitol, joined by other school groups with presentations from across the state. Staffers from the National Conference of State Legislatures, which helps with the Project Citizen across the U.S., served as judges.
The Fairview team made it to the final eight out of 24 schools. Judges said that all of the finalists deserved to advance to the national finals, but there could be only one winner: Indian Ridge Elementary School in the Cherry Creek district, which studied colony collapse disorder among bee populations.
Mr. Diehl was proud of and thrilled for his charges. "Our kids did wonderful," he said. He also noted that Rep. Ferrandino "gave Fairview a special shout-out" at the awards ceremony.
Congratulations, Fairview Falcons, on a job well done, and on a big stage.
Article posted on May 19, 2011