SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – The Springfield High School Community Action Class is a group of students formed from the final project of SHS freshman civics class, in which they are asked to create ways to improve their school or community. The students research different ideas and create proposals about how they would put their ideas into action and make them reality.
“Every semester, there are students that want a space to have as their own, a space where they have a voice,” said SHS social studies teacher, Chris Lievense. “It is from there that we moved forward with the idea of building a local youth center. Tamara Stagner then wrote in her Agency of Education, 21st Century Community Learning Center and Vermont Community Foundation grants that we create a youth center. Tamara has been a driving force in making this happen. Her guidance, constant effort, community connections, and vision has made this a reality.”
Stagner is the programs director at Park Street School in Springfield.
Lievense had been asked if he would be interested in working with some students on creating a class to make such a space. “Chris jumped at the opportunity,” Stagner said. “We worked at creating a project-based class that is working to solve issues involving youth in our community – such as drug use, opioids, vaping, alcohol, teen pregnancy, poverty, food, safety, communication, sense of belonging – and specifically trying to build a youth center to address and help solve these problems.”
In the class, students participated in several student body surveys about what they would like in a youth center and also did two different surveys on creating a name for the space. Through these surveys, it was determined that students were interested in various things such as a music room, food, games (and gaming), a community gathering place, job and career training, a recording space, places to meet and hang out, a place for confidential meetings, and a skill sharing space.
The name chosen by the students was “The Space,” and they are in the process of creating a logo contest to create the official logo of the youth center. There is also a plan to create a community/student advisory board, as well as an ongoing group to plan future events and activities. Once The Space is open, the goal will be to have “student voices” be what drives activities and programs. It will be a work-in-progress but having student ideas direct the center is what the research says will keep the youth center important, vibrant, and long lasting.
“We are looking at a restorative justice model to deal with issues and conflicts, and a rotating governance group that would allow a variety of students to become involved,” Stagner added. “We expect to open in or before June of 2019, and the center hours will revolve around after school and early evening hours, possibly between 3 and 8 p.m. and perhaps weekends and later in Fridays.”
For now, the plan is to simply have a safe place for kids to play games, have fun and, moving forward, start to do some family and community-orientated events. Other ideas include after school homework “help nights,” and service projects postings for the community who need help with jobs and organizing skill shares.
As far as age groups, some nights will be geared for SHS students and others for Riverside Middle School students, and the specific schedule will be established by the teen advisory board. There will also be a youth coordinator – an adult – on site whenever the center is open, and the hope is to also create an AmeriCorps position to help supervise so there will be two adults at the center at all times. The advisory board will also monitor behavior and activities, observing actions they feel may not be appropriate at the center.