4 Rivers students tout civic engagement

  • Four Rivers Public Charter School students Dylan Dubay, 17, center, and Henry Worden, 18, right, present their civics projects at Greenfield Community College on Friday. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon

  • Four Rivers Public Charter School students Dylan Dubay, 17, and Henry Worden, 18, present their civics projects at Greenfield Community College, Friday. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon

Recorder Staff
Friday, May 04, 2018

GREENFIELD — Leading about 100 of his classmates down Main Street to the Common, chanting, “This is what democracy looks like,” Dylan Dubay, 17, was facilitating the walkout in March to protest gun violence at Four Rivers Public Charter School.

Dubay gave a speech at the Common that day about engaging in the political process, urging his fellow students to not shortchange their voice. While he was vocalizing his First Amendment rights, Dubay also was in the middle of working on a school project.

Friday at Greenfield Community College, Four Rivers students like Dubay showed their projects they have been working on this year, to their peers and the public, as a part of “A Better World Day,” the EL Education national initiative to incentivize students to do expeditionary learning.

Presenting their work on boards, the handful of Four Rivers seniors showed off a range of projects that were less focused on in-depth research from academic journals and based more on real-life experience.

“This project as a whole reassured me that we all have a say,” Dubay said, who as a part of his project wrote a letter to his state Rep. Susannah Whipps and spoke about the topic at the Erving Democratic Committee and the Young Democrats of Western Massachusetts.

The projects varied, but the student reaction to their experiences were almost unanimous.

“Civic engagement helps make people aware and make better choices on voting,” Taylor Nichols, 17, said.

Nichols worked on raising awareness of human trafficking that not only happens internationally, but also more locally.

“You think of human trafficking as something going on in southern Asia,” Nichols said. “You don’t think about it happening here.”

She said her fellow classmates were surprised when she spoke about it, citing issues in Springfield and Northampton, often involving massage parlors.

In a letter to the editor to the Greenfield Recorder, Nichols wrote, “On a smaller scale, politicians are trying to get legislation passed around illicit massage parlors, due to the high rate of human trafficking rings operating within them. Seek out these bills, support them, and call your local representatives.”

Juliet Margola, 18, and Tori Koncz, 18, wrote letters to local school boards, calling for them to consider better education around how to have healthy relationships, more inclusivity between genders in sexual education and to address “toxic masculinity.”

“I was inspired to do this because I was seeing a lot of sexist things in boys my age in how they were treating women,” Margola said. “It’s so easy for me to say, ‘Men suck and they’re just sexist.’”

Instead, Margola and Koncz chose to look at what contributes to the way they see men, particularly around their age, act in relationship to women. They cited research that says certain stereotypes and societal norms lead to the way some men behave.

Presenting this information to their classmates, Koncz said she thought her peers were responsive to reflecting on this material. Margola added, “I saw a lot of boys saying ‘I don’t suffer from this but I know other people who do it,’ but those were the boys that inspired me to do the project.”

Vega Johnson-Bouchard,17, tackled the topic of rape culture and focused on sexual harassment in the workplace. In a letter to U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, she called for a zero-tolerance policy to sexual harassment in the workplace.

“It was kind of hard to talk about this subject,” she said. “People hear the word ‘rape’ and they’re scared off,” adding she was glad people were receptive to the conversation.

“I think it’ll make the world a better place, one step at a time,” Johnson-Bouchard said. “Raising awareness is the most important part.”

Working on a similar project to Dubay, Henry Worden, 18, examined the role of social media in politics, and in particular the 2016 presidential election. He asked his fellow students to be more critical of where they get their information from, but also to acknowledge that despite increased political apathy by some, there’s still room for their voice.

“A lot of people think that the presidential elections are the only thing that matters,” Worden said. “At the local level there’s a lot of change you can make that has a lot of effect on your daily lives.”