Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

DU students team up with ninth-grade students to tackle the issues

Students from DU’s Public Achievement program teamed up with ninth-grade students from Bruce Randolph School last year to tackle issues including immigration, teen pregnancy and better lunch choices.

The projects—which were presented May 11 at the high school as part of the program’s end-of-year celebration—are designed to give students a voice on important issues and teach them concepts of citizenship, democracy and public service.

“Public Achievement helps us learn about different issues,” says Bruce Randolph freshman George Gutierrez, who was on the teen pregnancy awareness team. “Teen pregnancy is a hot topic in many communities, and I’ve learned a lot.”

The Public Achievement program is part of DU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. The program was created in 1990 by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

In 2003, DU became the first university west of the Mississippi to launch the program. Today, DU’s program includes Bruce Randolph, North High School, Highline Academy, Manual High School, Ellis Elementary and Merrill Middle School.

Each fall, DU students work with school teachers and students to brainstorm which issues to address over the coming year. DU students then undergo extensive training and usually work with schools one day per week.

Through their involvement, DU students learn about leadership and develop close relationships with younger students.

“I like being around the kids and helping with their development,” says Russell Takeall, a sophomore international studies and sociology major, who coached four groups working on immigration. “I feel like they grew a lot during the time that I spent with them.”

Students in the Public Achievement program at Bruce Randolph participated through their speech and debate class. The groups met with their DU coaches every Friday.

Final projects included a play about the challenges faced by immigrants; a collaborative mural about justice and equality; a music video about police brutality; a video about knowing your rights; a bake sale benefitting Servicios De La Raza; fundraisers for a class trip to Washington, DC; and interviews about school lunch choices.

Teacher Libbi Peters has seen a difference in her high school students after their year of involvement with the Public Achievement program.

“The students have grown from the experience, and they are more mature,” she says. “It’s about talking about issues that they didn’t have an outlet for, and it puts their voices into action.”

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