The Potential Project gives students a voice to help create solutions

on February 9, 2016

Students in the West Contra Costa Unified School District can use their ideas to improve their school with the help of The Potential Project.

The program gives students a voice in the district’s planning process, so they can help create solutions to challenges like increasing parent engagement and providing more access to technology. The project requires young people to create a plan, collaborate their teacher and classmates, and create measurable progress towards one of the goals outlines in the Local Control Accountability Plan.

This plan is an official planning tool for districts in California to demonstrate how they will improve student outcomes with regard to test scores, grades, graduation rates, and college and career readiness. Some of these goals include increasing parent involvement, creating equal access to school materials and technology, and providing opportunities the support the mental, physical and nutritional health of students.

“Students can impact the culture of their school in ways that teachers and administration can’t. They’re just uniquely positioned to bring about change within their schools,” said Potential Project co-founder Dave Clark.

Clark, pastor of the Living Hope Neighborhood Church, and a group of teachers within his congregation created the project when discussing how they want to see their students improve their schools. The founders of the program celebrated its one-year anniversary last week. The success of last year’s student-led projects made them want to start the process over again for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year.

Students are asked to create a team of between 2 and 30 people, with a teacher as their supervisor. Then, the group picks a goal outlined in the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan that they want to raise awareness about and creates a written pitch. After that, the Potential Project committee selects winners of $500 grant prizes to bring those project ideas to life.

The Potential Project is open to all students in the West Contra Costa County Unified School District. Clark’s goal is to fund 40 grants for the upcoming school year. Last year they received 10 applications and funded 9.

One of the winners was a group of fourth graders from Verde Elementary in North Richmond. They chose to use their grant money to buy playground equipment for recess, stressing the importance of being active and to improve student health on their campus.

Another success story came from a group of high school students from of the RYSE Youth Center who built a Local Control Accountably Plan awareness cart. These students used music to draw their peers into learning more about the district’s plan and to encourage their classmates to get involved in the process.

Last year, a group of third grade students from Richmond College Preparatory School helped increase parent and community engagement by organizing a science night. Third grade teacher Jasmine Johnson facilitated the science night, but her students each student had a role to bring the project together. The class divided themselves into teams to handle getting the word out to the community, planning the schedule of the event and deciding which science project to build with their parents. They used their grant earnings to buy refreshments and supplies.

“One of the things students thought we were missing on [our] campus was making parents more visible. When you think about parents being on campus, especially in urban schools, you think Back to School Night or reviewing reports, and it’s usually in a negative way. We wanted to make a lighthearted event that would bring together students and their [families],” said Johnson.

With school districts in the state calling for more local control over school district’s academic performance and outcomes, Clark said the project presents an opportunity for students in West Contra Costa County.

“Students are the ones that are directly effected by educational inequity. They can speak to the issues in a unique way, because the educational issues directly affect them,” he said.

Applications for the 2016-2017 school year of the Potential Project close on Friday.

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