The trip to Nashville, Tenn. that Payson High School’s student government took last week, after its teen driving safety program finished in the top 10 nationally, set off a firestorm of ideas for new campaigns.
They met students from around the nation and participated in workshops and round-table discussions, which allowed their imaginations to ferociously grow.
Student government this year has already embarked on campaigns for hunger and homelessness awareness, besides the teen driving safety project.
Teacher Shelly Camp hopes the existing projects will continue with renewed vigor, and other projects, like a local and global study of water quality and conservation, will mobilize the Payson High School community.
The Nashville trip started with the teen driving safety campaign, called Project Ignition. Payson’s program, entitled tnk B4 U drV (Think Before You Drive in text speak), involved a video announcement, mock accident, and presentations at football games, among other things, to promote safe driving habits like obeying speed limits and wearing seat belts.
Payson student government’s project finished in the top 10 nationally, which earned them the Nashville trip, where they competed for a $10,000 grant. They didn’t win that grant, but students did win $1,000 to continue the project.
They also connected with a school in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which invited Payson students, who partly presented their project in Spanish, to do another presentation in South America.
“We’re looking into that as a possibility,” Camp said, although it may not be possible because of the huge cost involved. However, she added that the students in both countries will likely continue to exchange ideas through the Internet or a web camera.
State Farm Insurance and the National Youth Leadership Council jointly sponsor Project Ignition, which is part of the service-learning movement that aims to engage students in tackling social issues while developing critical thinking and problem solving skills.
At the Nashville conference, students also attended workshops on everything from recycling to AIDS awareness.
At home, student government plans to mount campaigns and study issues like water quality and conservation, along with recycling.
A school in Pennsylvania, which Payson students also connected with, has already worked on a water quality study. The two schools plan to partner, Camp said.
Some local science classes have studied water quality in the East Verde River, and Camp wants to expand that, by studying other local sources of water, developing an awareness campaign for water quality and conservation and also studying global problems.
For instance, 2 million people — the majority of them children under 5 — die worldwide every year from lack of clean water, according to H20 For Life, an organization that connects domestic schools to ones in developing countries. The domestic schools learn about their foreign counterparts and raise money for water, sanitation and hygiene projects.
On the recycling front, one student council member is also in the Go Green Club, which has started recycling aluminum cans and plastic on campus. Other students also began recycling paper this year.
“We want to take it to the next level,” Camp said. “Recycling is more than paper and plastic and cans.” For instance, people can fix broken items instead of throwing them away. By raising awareness, Camp hopes student government can make a difference.
Student council will break into groups, with several students working on a particular project. However, some projects, like teen driving safety, will remain a council-wide endeavor.
In the individual groups, students will work with other teachers and students, and perhaps in the community at large, to raise awareness and develop campaigns while learning about a particular issue.
The goal, said Camp, is to make student government a hub of information, resources and activity for the four or five projects they spearhead.
The problem is maintaining momentum. “You go to a conference like that and you get all these wonderful ideas,” Camp said. “Then you come back to reality. We don’t want to lose the momentum.”
Plus, in the coming weeks, student government faces elections for officers and prom planning, which means less time available for its new missions.
Next year, however, student government will become a class instead of a club. That will allow more time for campaigns, and more time for these young activists to make their marks.