Miami Lakes Middle School’s Department chair of Social Studies, Lisa DeYarza, has once again led her students to success at the District, State and National Project Citizen competition, hosted by the Center for Civic Education.
This is the sixth consecutive year of state championships the Miami Lakes Middle students have won. The school continued forward after state competitions and was honored with a Superior Achievement at the national level.
The purpose of Project Citizen is to engage students in the legislative process by creating and defending public policy solutions to a problem identified in their community.
It is a first-hand approach to competently pursue changes that would benefit the community and a lesson in monitoring and influencing matters of concern in the legislative process.
Students then take part in simulated public hearings in which they present the results of their work. Their research begins as early as September and runs through the competitions in late Spring.
Students learn to sift through policies and actively attempt to have government officials consider and adopt their solutions.
“When the students get asked ‘how often do you call officials?’ they know the answer is ‘until the mailbox is full’,” said DeYarza with a smile.
Last year, DeYarza and the project team finished in first place for their project “Warning: Illegal Passing of School Buses.” This year the students tackled the misconduct faced in school hallways between classes. The project was titled “Civility in the Hallways.”
The students conducted in-depth research on solutions for the issues of misconduct, even that of the effect of music on emotion which led to one of the many facets of their solution – playing genre-specific music between class changes.
The state Project Citizen Showcase offers two categories of awards, one for best oral hearings, and the other for top portfolios. Miami Lakes Middle’s “Civility in the Hallways” project was named the top portfolio, and winner of the Best Middle School Oral Hearing out of 11 participating Florida schools.
“I want them to be good citizens,” said DeYarza. “Let’s do something! Why gripe? Do it. Fix the problem. That is what Project Citizen encourages.”
Dorcas Perez from the Town of Miami Lakes wrote the grants needed for Project Citizen costs, and had Lowe’s come on board for a donation to the students. The funds Perez raised, along with those of the students and help from the PTA were able to cover costs for competition expenses, the final competition being held in May in Washington, D.C.
“In the words of John Donne, ‘no man is an island’ and I know that very well,” said DeYarza. “Beth Martinez has been instrumental in assisting our law program. Many thanks to The Graham Companies and what they stand for. School Board chair Perla Tabares Hantman and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho have both also been a huge help.
“There is no way I can do this alone,” she said. “The community and most importantly the amazing parents who give their time and support to this program are essential. This is a good lesson in civics. You are never alone when completing tasks.”
The students also placed first in Miami-Dade County for the Model UN competition at Miami Dade College, were recognized as state champions for the We the People competition, and won the district competition.
The words of poet William Butler Yeats, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” are painted above DeYarza’s classroom desk, a fitting quote for the creative thinking and practical application students learn throughout the school year.
Miami Lakes Councilmember Nelson Rodriguez has invited DeYarza and her winning students to attend a Town Council meeting on September 10 for recognition of their efforts and successes.