“Nadia’s Law” Part 2

“Nadia’s Law” Part 2: Democracy in Action

“I was at an event at the State House that was put together by an organization by the name of Generation Citizen. And it was their Civics Day.  And I heard a student, a young lady named Nadia from Boston Arts Academy talk about the need for recycling in her school…that was all I needed to hear.”

So Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo opened up the Boston City Council Committee of Education hearing this past Tuesday to implement a comprehensive recycling program in Boston Public Schools (BPS).  I was invited to attend the hearing and read a testimony from Nadia Issa, the Generation Citizen student who inspired Councilor Arroyo.  Read the full story of that original inspiration here.

Tuesday’s hearing was chaired by Councilor Arroyo, Councilor Tito Jackson, and Councilor John Donnolly, and hosted a presentation by Phoebe Beierle, a Center for Green Schools Fellow.  Ms. Beierle has been working closely with BPS Facilities Management to develop and roll out a comprehensive recycling program for BPS.  The program would mobilize the BPS custodial department and faculty at 50 BPS schools to implement recycling options, incentivize recycling for students and faculty, and coordinate collection, with the aim of expanding to all 125 BPS schools by the end of next year. While Ms. Beierle and BPS had been strategizing this program for a while, they had not until Tuesday received the city council’s endorsement and their commitment to supporting such aggressive implementation.

Young People Can Inspire

At the hearing, it was clear that Nadia and her classmates played a large part in motivating the council’s endorsement.  Councilor Jackson shared a story about his father, a long-time activist for recycling, and remarked:

“I bring up [my father] because, just as the young person that Felix is talking about, he acted and demanded for change not as an elected official, but as someone who cared about the community.  And I think some of the best policy that we see comes from folks who approach us and ask why, approach us and demand why, and that policy is able to come forward from the community….There is so much we can learn from our young people, and especially young people from the Boston Public Schools.  There are so many bright stars out there.”

Young People Can Lead

One of the most exciting things for me, however, was that the officials present at the hearing envisioned an ongoing role for young people. Councilor Connolly specifically questioned Ms. Beierle about whether or not students would be part of the recycling committee BPS would establish to oversee implementation.  “[We need to be] stressing the importance that students be staked into the leadership of the program, and play that active role,” he reminded the group.  Similarly, BPS Executive Director of Facilities Carleton Jones emphasized that his work would continue to engage young people:

“We too are excited about students such as Nadia Issa and others… throughout our system who are very engaged in BPS and will participate in the recycling program. Our program actually has several goals, one of which is interfacing and interacting with students and having them realize their potential in this area.”

It was not just about young people advocating for change and then kindly stepping aside to leave the business of making change to officials.  Rather, the officials wanted young people to remain at the table, to continue to lead. At GC, we talk a lot to our students about effective action being a process. Real change occurs not because of any isolated activity but by integrating with and participating in the democratic systems that structure our communities. Here was a real confirmation of this point: young people were being called upon not just to inspire policy, but to make policy.

Young People Can Change Our Culture

And what is the result of young people making policy?  Specific initiatives that improve our schools and our environment, like this BPS recycling program, but also a self-perpetuating culture of community improvement. As Nadia shared in her testimony supporting the recycling program her actions helped create:

Recycling not being an important issue throughout BPS creates a negative culture of not caring…If there was a recycling program throughout BPS it would: improve the school immediately and how we treat trash, and educate people, especially teens and children, about our responsibility to the environment. Boston would be a district that raises its children and our future generations to come to care about the environment.”

In his final remarks at the hearing, Councilor Arroyo extended this point by affirming that the engagement of young people has long-term cultural effects.  He thanked Generation Citizen for our work in empowering young people:

 “I just met Generation Citizen maybe about a year and a half ago, and we’ve been doing good work together since, and so I’m very grateful for that relationship, and thank you for what you do in teaching the young people in Boston about civics and how to become civically engaged.  I think [just] as teaching how to recycle at a young age, if you teach the importance of being civically engaged at a young age, that will also become second nature and will create better citizens and also a better city.”

I am excited to be a citizen in a democracy that has opportunities for young people to inspire, lead, and create ongoing change.  And I feel very lucky to be part of the Generation Citizen movement, and work towards increasing young people’s awareness of and access to these opportunities.  As Councilor Arroyo affirmed, this is how we get to a “better city” and a better nation.

Thank you to Nadia Issa as well as Councilor Arroyo and the Boston City Council Committee on Education.  A video copy of the full hearing is available at the Boston City Council Video Library here.

~Gillian Pressman, Generation Citizen Greater Boston Program Manager