Summer assignment: Pittsfield students tackle neighborhood concerns
PITTSFIELD -- Their assignment is to design a community service project.
So earlier this week, a group of 13 rising ninth-graders surveyed a total of 70 community members on Elm and North streets about what they'd like to see change or improve in their neighborhoods.
"A lot of kids were surprised by the responses," said Lynn Helde, one of eight educators who are staffing a summer program called CPSS -- Collaborative Partnerships for Student Success -- which is funded by a state grant.
The program is designed to give upcoming ninth-graders skills, confidence and a portfolio to bring with them, as they transition to high school.
From the survey, students found that people had the biggest concerns with teens in their neighborhoods and dogs.
So clusters of students have been researching and developing two project proposals: the establishment of a new teen center and the creation of a city dog park. They will present the proposals to city officials next week.
Of their survey results, "96 percent of people think a teen center would help [prevent] risky behaviors, would benefit area teens, and think the city's government should help fund it."
More than half of the responders said they would help with the center and 86 percent would donate to the project.
Today, the youths will distribute pamphlets they've created about CPSS and their projects at the Pittsfield Farmers Market, and will field questions from residents.
On Monday, the students are scheduled to meet with city Parks and Open Space Manager James McGrath. On Wednesday, they've got plans to meet with Mayor Daniel Bianchi.
"The students have come up with two excellent ideas. Each of these ideas have promise in our city," Bianchi said. "I am happy to help, but I am more excited to take all of their work back to City Hall. Kids often have a fresh perspective on issues and come up with creative ideas."
Student Anthony Hopkins said the dog park idea stemmed from work the group had been doing at Canoe Meadows with Mass Audubon's Gayle Tardif-Raser, such as cleaning up graffiti in the observation deck and installing new bird houses.
"A lot of people walk their dogs their, and they're not supposed to; they can mess with the birds who live there," he said. "But people want a place to walk their dogs too."
So he and classmates Nic Miraglia, Zachary Shove and Alton Mitchell each came up with their own designs and began researching open space in the city.
Andrew Wood has been working on developing rules for a dog park, and all the students have been researching costs, land restrictions and other details. They've even consulted with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority about space they might have available; once space seemed promising, but PEDA deemed it unsafe for animals to use due to old equipment on the parcel.
Another group of students have been exploring the feasibility of a teen center, perhaps something housed in an existing place like the Boys & Girls Club of Pittsfield, or something new that could be developed in a space like the former municipal Fire House on Tyler Street.
"A lot of business owners were concerned with teens loitering," said student Jordan LaBonte. "When I hang out with my friends, we really don't have a place to go, especially later at night. A lot of places cost a lot of money to us."
His classmate, Reece Hyde, said he hopes that people "see that we're actually trying to help the community, to help kids keep out of gangs and trying to lower teen violence."
Teacher Julie Pellerin-Herrera said that last year's CPSS participants also considered working to develop a teen center.
Christine Alberti, a teacher and parent, said she wished there was a center exclusively for teens. "It would be nice for them to have a place to go that they feel like it's their own," she said.
Gideon Osafo, who worked on designing posters with his classmates Chauncey Dozier and Willie Harrison, said they'd like to see rooms for art, culinary, working out, playing basketball, doing homework and getting social support. There would also be a music room and lounge, in their ideal vision, along with either a cafe or vending machines for snacks and drinks. The center would be designated for youths ages 13 to 17, with opportunities for 18- and 19-year-olds to work there as supervisors.
"Everything they're doing is based on student ownership," said Kimberlee Robertson, CPSS coordinator.
Student Auston Most said he and other classmates are committed to working on their proposals even after the CPSS summer program is over.
"When you start something, you want to finish it," he said. "We are really trying to make this happen."
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