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‘Youth are brutally honest.’ Third-graders weigh in on improving Lenexa

Rosehill’s school resource officer Megan Larson explains the equipment in the back of a police car to students.
Rosehill’s school resource officer Megan Larson explains the equipment in the back of a police car to students. Special to The Star

Add more trash cans around town. Ensure sidewalks flank the roads. Stop people from texting and driving. And bring on the dog parks.

These are just a few suggestions from a group of third-graders who researched their community and gathered ideas for making it a better place.

The classes at Rosehill Elementary School in Lenexa recently worked on a project to learn about how different parts of city government work and what the students might change if they got the chance.

Dawn Layman, deputy chief of police for Lenexa, says it’s good to get kids involved early on.

“At the end of this, maybe we’ll have some public servants coming out of this group,” Layman said.

A field trip to city hall — where they spoke with Mayor Michael Boehm, toured the police department and chatted with a judge — helped bring some municipal government concepts to life.

“We started with what a good citizen is… then the big question of ‘How can I improve my community?’ was introduced,” said Meghan Minardi, a third-grade teacher at Rosehill. “And so this whole entire time, every presenter we had, every field trip we’ve taken, it all kind of is the kids gathering their evidence to answer that question.

“They’re learning that their voice does matter.”

The students also wrote letters to neighbors about what it means to be a good citizen and wrote encouraging messages in chalk on the sidewalks. This is the fourth year Rosehill has done this civics project.

“Youth are brutally honest, which is good,” Boehm said. “They don’t have filters yet, and we need to hear what people really think.”

After their field trip and careful research, the 67 students — in groups of three and four — gave presentations to city officials and parents about how they would change their community. It took about a month for the students to learn all about the city and come up with their presentations.

“The hardest part was speaking in front of the mayor and everyone else,” said Queen Mbatchi, 8.

Olakunbi Abitogun, 8, said one of the more challenging parts of the project was getting all the group members to work together and agree on elements of the presentation, such as what colors they would use on their Powerpoint slides.

Miranda Caldwell said that because some of her friends have had robberies at their homes, she would put up more security cameras.

Otherwise, “it’s a pretty good place as it is,” said the 8-year-old.

Minardi said students will quickly say that the community needs bigger swimming pools or a theme park, and this project helps them understand why it’s not always easy to just make those things happen.

“It’s like, ‘OK, well where’s that money going to come from?’ It’s good conversations about what we should use taxes for,” Minardi said.

Minardi likes that the project shows her students how to have a voice in community.

“It’s teaching them that civic engagement doesn’t just mean having an opinion,” Minardi said. “It means taking your opinion, developing it and taking time to present it to people that can help you make the difference.

“Yes, they are third-graders, but they have great ideas if you take time to ask them.”

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