For the better part of the school year, eighth graders at the middle school have been engaged in civic learning and community service projects and were recognized by the state with the California Civic Learning Award of Distinction.
“Their work and this award is a promise of a positive future,” San Diego Unified School District Board of Education president Michael McQuary said. “Civic engagement is what it is all about for a solid foundation for an incredible future.”
The Civic Learning Award is part of the Civic Learning Initiative and represents a commitment to developing complete civic literacy in students across the state of California.
Pacific Beach Middle School is one of six schools in the state to receive the award. A panel of experts selected Pacific Beach Middle based on classes, clubs and programs that teach students about their role in the world and empower them to be model citizens.
“We are ecstatic because these kids have worked so hard and are able to take what they have learned, apply it to the outside world and be recognized for it all,” said Jennifer Sims, coordinator of International Baccalaureate at PBMS.
As individuals and as groups, the eighth grade class completed a variety of community service projects that required research, funding and action.
“This recognition is fantastic for our school, but it really means more for the students,” PBMS principal Kimberly Meng said. “They didn't just learn something in class; we asked them to reflect and take what they learned into the real world.”
The students were able to focus on any cause that mattered to them. They had to make a proposal, complete the activity and then present something about the experience to the school.
Two students developed a cellphone app to help people navigate the Tecolote Trails safely and with minimal damage to the land. Another worked with a Holocaust survivor to organize a remembrance assembly. Other groups cleaned beaches, raised money for the ASPCA, spent time with senior citizens and coordinated a book drive. One student donated her time on Christmas to bring presents to children in the foster care system.
Through research, one group learned that a majority of elementary school students learn how to use iPhones before they learn how to tie their shoes. This group designed cardboard shoes with laces and donated them to an elementary school as a tool for teaching the students how to tie their own shoes.
“This is so wonderful that the kids were able to take issues that matter to them and truly make a difference and at such a young age,” said Joan Irion, associate justice on the San Diego-based Fourth District Court of Appeals.
Aalaiziah Collins, a Pacific Beach Middle student, has been recognized by the school in the past for her commitment to community service. She said she learned the importance of giving back from her father, who gave back to his country for more than 20 years in the Navy.
“Watching the grade come together was empowering, and I have learned how to be of service to others and spread the love,” Collins said.
Eighth grader Sonja Cayetano said she was concerned with the attitude at her school and wanted to make a change through the athletic program. She spent time painting murals near the sports fields with messages addressing fairness and respect.
“This all showed me how community service is not only a physical thing but it impacts the people in the area and endures time,” Cayetano said.
According to Meng, these projects were designed to show that passion, commitment and hard work can make anyone a productive member of society and help students change the world.
According to Irion, the award celebrates the achievements of the young and powerful people who will change the world. Irion hopes that if more schools follow the model used at Pacific Beach Middle, California can become a leader in civics education.
“This democracy will not work if people don't know how this nation works,” Irion said. “These students now know what it means to be a good citizen and how to take action and use what they learned in the class room to change the world.”