Touchet students win acclaim for civility project

The seventh-graders' annual project took home first place in a state competition.

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TOUCHET -- Touchet School is running out of room for all of its trophies. Donnetta Elsasser's seventh-grade class secured another win for the school at the Project Citizen state showcase earlier this month.

Project Citizen is a curriculum developed for middle school students by the Center for Civic Education that is designed to teach students about making public policy. Students decide on a problem, research solutions to that problem, and then present those solutions to the relevant policy makers who can help implement the solutions the students have developed.

This year, Elsasser's class tackled what they referred to as "uncivilized behavior" at their school. "Mainly the types of behaviors we deal with are pushing and shoving, bad language in English and Spanish, and rude comments toward other students and staff members," said Hana Chaney, one of Elsasser's students.

In the past, projects have included getting lights installed on the football field, and changing the school's athletic classification.

According to Elsasser, focusing on uncivilized behavior was not an easy choice. "There were at first quite a few people who said, 'The bad behavior is a problem, but what can you do about it?'" Despite the perceived difficulty of their task, Elsasser's students were still interested in pursuing a solution.

"We want to fix those (behaviors) because it's never been a problem at our school before," Chaney said. "Now it is. People in larger communities and bigger schools don't look at this as a problem at all, but it is, because in our whole entire school, it's only 256 kids."

The students have proposed a problem-solving committee that would consist of elected representatives from sixth through 12th grades, who would meet to discuss issues presented by the student body, and work with the school's administration to find a resolution.

"We realized that if the students feel like they're more involved in school, then they're going to have better behavior," said student Faith Dowsett, citing the research the students worked on to develop their proposal. The seventh graders hope that the proposed committee will provide students with exactly that feeling of involvement.

Elsasser said the project has changed the dialogue about behavior at Touchet School. "Now everybody's talking about it," she said. "I, personally, have been much more aware, and I've stopped and used that as a teaching point. I've heard other teachers say the same thing."

The students plan to send their portfolio, a four-panel presentation board, on to the national competition in Washington, D.C., but must first raise the roughly $300 to ship it there.

As for the committee, students are working on laying the foundations for its existence next school year.

How to help

Touchet School seventh-graders are raising funds to ship their project off to nationals. To help out, contact Donnetta Elsasser at delsasser@touchet.k12.wa.us or 509-394-2352.

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