Poulsbo Middle students take on portable classrooms

POULSBO — A group of rising ninth grade students were determined to change things at Poulsbo Middle School before moving on.

Students in Melinda Hughes’ eighth-grade class took on a project this spring to improve the use of portables in the North Kitsap School District, specifically at their school.

“We got together and we looked at all the problems we could address in our community, and we decided we could work on our portables,” said Olivia Linder, a student in the class.

The project was part of a larger program called Project Citizen, a state-wide program that guides students through the steps of creating and changing public policy. Students gathered research in their subject area over the course of about two and a half months, and made presentations to the North Kitsap School Board and other local officials. The project took them to Olympia, where they presented their ideas to judges at the state finals in May.

“We learned that you can be an everyday kid and make a change,” student Olivia Krol said of the process.

Other classes within the school also undertook the project, but focused on different policies or community concerns. The project tasked students to first outline what they believed to be a problem in their community, research why it is a problem, examine and evaluate alternative solutions, develop a replacement policy if needed and finally develop an action plan to get their new policy enacted.

“She (Hughes) asked if we wanted to take on this challenge, and we all said we did,” Danielle Elder, a student in the class, said.

The project was a follow-up to a unit Hughes taught earlier in the year, about the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence and the foundations of American government.

“They learned about civic responsibility and ways that citizens can be involved in the political process,” Hughes wrote in an email. “Project Citizen is a program that engages them in this process and walks them through making change.”

The students, who spend much of their class time in portables, believed the buildings were not conducive to a good learning environment. They initially posited that portables allow too much outside noise, are stuffy and lead to health problems for students. They also noted many of the district’s portables are 10, 20 or more years old.

After more research, though, the students discovered that some of their passion against portables may have led them astray. They continued to research and could not find enough evidence to show that portables contributed to health problems.

“We also researched more on the problem and found out that some of our findings, like air quality, weren’t true,” Haley Hurtt, a student in the class, said.

Though their original claims did not hold up the way they expected, the students’ research and presentations were solid, which led them to the state finals in Olympia, where they presented their project to the congressional district.

“I thought it was a very good presentation, especially as it moved through several different iterations,” said Dave Dumpert, the school district’s director of facilities and maintenance.

Dumpert said his department is planning to renovate or replace a few of the portables in the district, but those plans were in the works before the students began their project.

The students, who will enter North Kitsap High School in the fall, will likely have to live with portables a bit longer.

“We also learned that it’s really hard to change public policy,” Linder said.

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