By Patrick Kelly, 8th Grade Humanities teacher, Paulo Freire School, Downtown Tucson
Our visit to CAP Headquarters served as a capstone for a unit of learning around water. These students came to CAP a day after presenting their learning to our school community in the form of the 2018 Youth Water Unconference on our campus in downtown Tucson.
Attending our conference were students, family members and water professionals from Tucson Water, the Community Water Coalition and Project WET, among others. Now we sit observing water policy discussions at the highest level in the State of Arizona.
In planning this unit, my colleague, Joe Boehm and I – as a teaching team – discussed our desire to provide students with an understanding of the science, history and policy-making around water in the Colorado River Basin. We believe these young scholars have the will and the confidence to speak to the future of water in Arizona. As our CAP presenters (thank you, Phil Fortnam and Orestes Morfin!) talked with them, these learners were for the most part on point, asking questions, answering questions and understanding the information presented. Leading discussions at their student-led conference, they had an opportunity to practice discussing issues including water reclamation, contaminants, water scarcity and water conservation, as well as water policy. Next up for us at our CAP visit – our students had the chance to see policy-making in action.
As we watched the AZDCP Steering Committee discuss Consensus Recommendations, Joe and I attempted to direct the kids toward information they have processed during their learning. I saw a familiar classroom ambiance. As with all young teens, they swivel their chairs, fidget with bits of paper and draw pictures. To some, it may appear they are bored and distracted. I know otherwise – that while the teenage body is awfully wiggly, the teenage mind has an amazing ability to take in information not yet processed. This experience is being mentally logged. Slowly, connections are being made to prior knowledge. I feel confident this exposure to the processes of bureaucratic decision making is filed for future reference. I truly believe these connections are a part of future understandings.
As young Arizonans, our students are seeing government in action. Our hope is that we are helping to prepare their participation in the process. As we watched the livestream video in a conference room across the way, we would hit pause to unpack acronyms like ICS, USF and GSF. We talked to the students about Tucson and Phoenix interests next to agricultural interests and the importance of this negotiation in the event of a continuing drought. And we tasked them with writing a question for the committee.
We grouped the kids together, submitted the questions and headed over to the meeting room. We waited, standing outside the glass wall to the meeting room. I could tell the kids were nervous – they feel the gravity and connection between their learning and the real-world implications of that learning. The committee invited us into the room and read several of the students’ questions aloud. The questions
were relevant and one of the co-chairmen complimented the students and acknowledged them as he answered. This is what we had hoped for – student voices meeting government in action!
Paulo Freire School is a Tucson charter school emphasizing social justice and environmental sustainability. In addition to teaching 8th grade humanities, Patrick Kelly also serves as a City High School basketball coach and was recently recognized as a Raytheon/Tucson Values Teacher Leader.