Students at Cahill Elementary School on Saugerties last formed an advocacy group called Students for Change, organized to give kids a chance to make a difference. This year, the group is building on their inaugural efforts.
Some members of Students for Change, and its subgroup the Animal Helping League, spoke about their involvement during a meeting of the Saugerties Central School District Board of Education held on Tuesday, October 11.
“Students for Change is an important group because it teaches kids that they have a voice that can change the world,” said Cahill fifth-grader Easton Koegel. “Many people, even adults, are scared of speaking up when something is not right.”
The group’s faculty adviser is Cahill fourth-grade teacher Susan McManigal, who joined the district’s Diversity Committee last summer “as a teacher to promote diversity and awareness in our community.”
“I came into the classroom at the beginning of last year having learned what a powerful catalyst student activism could be,” McManigal said. “I knew that it could be an engaging method of education. Learning how to effectively raise awareness, helps empower our communities.”
McManigal said the activism group helped open up students to new ways of thinking and to confront and solve problems facing society.
“Most importantly, student activism can instill a personal sense of purpose by giving students a voice,” McManigal said.“Kids have a built in sense of what’s fair and what’s equal. They also have a built in voice. This group came with their own ideas of what needed to be done to make our town and the world a better place.
In the first year of Students for Change and Animal Helping League, Cahill students raised money by creating artwork to draw attention to the harm plastic waste does to the ocean; one member’s family adopted an endangered sea turtle nest; students gathered needed items for the Saugerties Animal Shelter; they created bug sanctuaries; and on a Saturday, they cleared the trail to the Saugerties Lighthouse of debris, with Koegel’s family bringing two discarded tires home to dispose of properly.
“That’s how bad it was,” said Koegel.
Students for Change has met with New York State Senator Michelle Hinchey and Village of Saugerties Mayor Bill Murphy to discuss the need for disabled access at Donlon Auditorium. And they’ve marched through the village streets expressing support for equality and diversity.
“There’s a sense of community that develops among people who’ve worked together to make a difference,” said McManigal.
Five of the 14 members of last year’s Students for Change were on hand at the School Board meeting, and they’re not only all still involved with the group, they’re also mentoring students who’ve joined up this school year.
“I hope Students for Change continues to grow and all the kids from Saugerties find their voice,” said Koegel.
Other members of the group also spoke during the meeting.
“Even though we’re young, we accomplished all those things last year,” said fifth-grader Andrew Bernard. “That’s why students should have a voice. Student voices are important in the decision-making process because these decisions impact our school and our daily life.”
Fellow Cahill fifth-grader Flynn O’Malley spoke of the importance of Students for Change.
“It’s a group of kids trying to change the earth,” O’Malley said. “It’s important that kids know they have a say too. I enjoy it because I know we’re making a difference. This club helps kids do stuff where it feels harder when you’re a kid.”
Future plans for Students for Change and the Animal Helping League include looking into restocking local ponds with more fish, encouraging more people to clean up nature and create an animal shelter.