Guest Post: Civic Action at Johnson-Brock

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For the remainder of the academic semester, Civic Nebraska will be sharing guest blog posts from undergraduate fellows participating in our Rural Civic Action Program, a joint program with UNL’s Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication Department, and UNK’s Chancellor’s Leadership Course. The program is made possible through grant funding from the Rural Futures Institute. Through meaningful community-based service learning projects, students and undergraduates practice critical thinking, civil discourse, leadership skills, and promote youth capacity to positively impact their community. We’re excited to share student perspectives on this process!

By Kenzee Kucera

The Rural Civic Action program has taken me into the community of Johnson, NE this semester where I am facilitating a service learning project for 8th grade students at Johnson-Brock. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the project, seeing that I have no education in teaching or facilitation. On the first day of class my level of nervousness was quite high. I remember my palms were sweaty, my voice was shaky, and my legs a bit weak. My nerves quickly dissipated as I was able to get to know each one of the students by name and learn something about them. The Rural Civic Action Program is unique because it allows the students to identity the true needs and key collaborators in their community.

During the first class visit the students had many ideas for the need in their community that would eventually become their service learning project. Many of them mentioned the lack of a recycling center, the need for more decorations around the holidays, and a need for a new track. I listened eagerly to what the students had to say about each of these identified needs. Many of their arguments were
compelling. We carried our conversation into week two, as we continued to discuss these three needs it was clear that it had become a battle between two projects: recycling center vs. new track. Eventually our discussion led to a vote, which showed that the track project had narrowly beat out the recycling center.

Stairspic
Johnson-Brock students and UNL fellow Kenzee Kucera following their presentation to the school board.

Now that we had chosen the project I was eagerly anticipating visit number three. For this visit I was expecting to pick up where we left off and get started on our project, however, our project required some collaboration with school administrators and the school board. A little back story, their current track is a dirt track that sits around a brand new Astroturf football field. The students had identified fundraising toward a new track as a need because the track is regularly unusable due to mud and it is the cause of many ankle and toe injuries, and discourages many students from going out for track

On their own, the students decided to take time to have personal conversations with their principal and the superintendent in order to gain buy-in for their project. The students decided that they need to prove to the school board their need for this project. The students scheduled a presentation to the school board meeting on November 9th. In order to provide solid information to the school board, the students decided to have all of the K-12 students complete as survey about the current track and present these results at the school board meeting. The survey results were compelling, showing clear student perception of need for an improved track.

The 8th grade students were able to present their survey results and share a little about their fundraising project to raise money for a new track. I was very impressed by the presentation the students gave, they presented the survey results and shared about why they chose this project. The administrators and school board asked several questions about the students project and asked if they would be willing to help gain support for the new track as the proceed with this project.

This just goes to show that we cannot underestimate the power of youth and we need to continue to open opportunities for their opinions to be heard. The 13 students a Johnson have done as remarkable job thus far, and I cannot wait to see all that they do in the future.

Update: Since writing this blog post, the students also hosted a dodgeball tournament as a fundraiser for a new school track. The event was extremely successful: 25 teams participated and the students raised over $600 to be designated for the new track.

Many thanks to Lori Broady and Courtney Burr, who teach the 8th Grade Geography class at Johnson-Brock!

Johnson-Brock students compete at the dodgeball tournament fundraiser hosted by 8th grade students participating in Civic Nebraskas Rural Civic Action Program.
Johnson-Brock students compete at the dodgeball tournament fundraiser hosted by 8th grade students participating in Civic Nebraskas Rural Civic Action Program.

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