A long-term project in which ninth-graders assess and address community issues in Towson culminated Tuesday at Towson High School.
Seven classes of students in the school's Law and Public Policy magnet and Gifted and Talented program gave their final presentations in the Project Citizen program, an annual assignment in which each class picks a local issue, analyzes the problem and presents a possible solution to a panel of lawyers, lawmakers and school officials.
"It gives them a foundation for what it takes to … affect change," Mary White, Social Studies and Public Policy coordinator at Towson High, said. "We try to keep it as local as possible, because that's where you have the most impact as a citizen."
The students began work on the projects in March when small groups within each class do brief presentations on a community concern. The class then selects one issue to dedicate its collective efforts to, and after weeks of analysis, interviews, and research formulates a plan to address it.
One of the seven classes, Edward Faya's sixth-period class, addressed a problem that was more relevant to their own school than elsewhere in the community. It was based on a crime when, in January, a pair of students — one from Towson High and one from Dumbarton Middle — were robbed at gunpoint while walking home from school. One, an 11th-grader at Towson High, had her cell phone stolen. The Dumbarton student resisted, and the burglar fled.
The sixth-period class explained the problem to a panel, which included Councilman David Marks, attorney Mike Kelly and Renee Baylin, of the Baltimore County Public Schools Office of Social Studies. The focus area for their project included the school communities at Towson High, Dumbarton Middle, Rodgers Forge Elementary, Stoneleigh Elementary and West Towson Elementary, they said.
The group explored a myriad of options, such as putting foot-patrol police officers in school zones at dismissal time, shortening or canceling after-school activities, or providing a late bus for students who stay after school and might be walking alone. The class settled on educational sessions for students on how to prevent burglaries as their solution.
The educational session would be conducted by School Resource Officers who would tell students to avoid strangers, walk in groups, and keep valuables such as cell phones out of sight, the students said.
They also outlined an implementation plan that included preparation of materials and the presentations themselves, which would take just one class period.
After the presentation, Marks lauded the group for picking a "timely issue."
"People are rightfully concerned when it involves children," he said. "You found something you can help make a difference in an inexpensive manner."
The panel questioned the overall effectiveness of warning elementary school children about armed robberies, and wondered whether a longer-term solution was necessary. But overall, Faya said the class did well on a challenging project.
"It was difficult, because it was hard to get everyone to agree and do the work," Caitlin Pattanashetti, one of the class' project leaders, said.
Natalie Miller, another of the group leaders, said it was difficult to find a problem that was both in need of addressing and possible to solve.
"A consistent comment through all the classes is we didn't realize how difficult the process is," Faya said.
The teachers ensure that the seven classes don't duplicate issues, and as a result, the rotating panel of judges that included state Sen. Jim Brochin and Del. Steve Lafferty saw a variety of issues addressed.
One class gave a presentation on how to clean up Herring Run, which Lafferty said was very well done. Another addressed cleaning up the Oakleigh Pet Cemetery. A different class explored programs to help families and people experiencingfinancial distress find a way to feed their pets.
White, the social studies chair, said the quality of work is impressive considering they're just freshmen.