Project Citizen students participate in public policy

Dozens of students from across the state took public policy proposals to Maine’s capitol on Friday, where they presented them in legislative committee rooms and discussed them in the halls of the State House.

A student gives a presentation about the benefits of physical activity.

Pemetic Elementary School student Devin Parlatore discusses his group’s public policy project at the Project Citizen Showcase. Devin and his classmates proposed a set of amendments to their school’s wellness policy focused on ending the practice of withholding recess and physical activity time from students as a punishment.

Seventeen student teams from Blue Hill, Sabattus, Calais, Mount Desert Island, Portland and Windham participated in Project Citizen, an event sponsored by the non-profit KIDS Consortium that emphasizes service-learning.

The student teams researched locally relevant issues — obesity among classmates, animal hoarding and clean energy — and devised solutions. Many are now trying to get local government bodies to support them.

“It was really fun,” Maddie Dodge, a Blue Hill Consolidated School eighth grader, said of her service-learning experience.

Maddie and three classmates decided they would focus on preventing obesity at their school. They spent two months researching the issue and devising solutions. Next month, the students will attend a school board meeting and recommend that Blue Hill students spend more time in physical education classes.

The students said they learned a lot from choosing an issue of their own, digging into it and figuring out how best to work with classmates.

They also enjoyed the departure from the typical lesson-learning and test-taking.

“We’d learn it, then we didn’t have to take a test on it,” said Allyson Snow.

Project Citizen participants also heard from Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen. The political process, he said, is all about identifying a problem, researching it, arriving at a solution and building support for it.

“That’s exactly what goes on in this building,” he said. “You as a legislator do precisely what all of you just did.”

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