For the first time, Yelm Middle School went to the state competition for Project Citizen on May 19.
The students worked hard all year long to put together a qualifying project that they could present at the capitol building.
“There were six schools in the entire state of Washington that made it to the state level,” said YMS history teacher Cody Colt. “Ridgeline (Middle School) sent two teams and Yelm Middle School sent one.”
When results came in, YMS ended up taking an excellence award, as did one of the teams Ridgeline sent, Colt said. While they didn’t win, their projects were considered “excellent” by the judges.
“The purpose of Project Citizen is students of middle school to elementary age impacting their government in a positive way — however they can do that,” Colt said.
The project is time-intensive, and driven by the students every step of the way.
“Project Citizen is given to schools as an optional program,” Colt said. “[YMS] started it in October of last year, and what happens first is the kids come up with ideas for things they might want to improve in their city.”
The students came up with sidewalks, roads, city parks, drug awareness and school lunches, according to Colt. These were then narrowed down to three, through research: Sidewalks, streets and drug awareness.
After much deliberation, YMS’s team chose to run their project on drug awareness, specifically drug use for underage kids.
Ridgeline’s projects both centered around school lunch, one focusing on how unhealthy school lunch can be, and one focusing on bringing school garden produce into school lunches.
Once the teams decided on their topics, they started researching, Colt said.
“They called local companies, businesses, officials, police, and they got all that contact information to find out what the best way to deal with this problem is.”
After all the research, the YMS students found that the biggest drug problem in the area was in and around the skate park.
“They decided that the best way to combat this problem would be to have a Drug Awareness Day, which the city of Yelm passed to be the last Saturday in June,” Colt said.
For Drug Awareness Day, the kids planned a day that is open for all, with food vendors and help offered through True North, a non-profit organization that handles underage drug use and tries to help kids get on a better path.
Colt said it will be a fun day for families to use the skate park in a safe environment, perhaps have a skate competition and win some prizes.
“All this was totally run and set up by the kids,” Colt said. “I just kind of guide them in getting the stuff done, but it’s the kids that do all the work.”
So with their topics researched and their local changes mapped out, the three teams of students headed out to the capitol, where they competed against each other and five other teams — there were eight teams from six schools that competed.
Colt said they showed up at 7:30 a.m. on May 19 at the capitol to set their projects up.
“From there, at 10 o’clock, once we set up all the projects, the ceremony started, we went into the senate chambers — where the actual house and senate meet for the capitol – and we got instructions on what the day was going to look like,” Colt said.
Following a tour of the capitol grounds, the teams went into a chamber, each in their turn. Once in the chamber, the teams presented their ideas and their findings.
Then, the students were grilled by four judges for a 40-minute question and answer session.
Ridgeline’s two teams went first and second, followed by YMS’s team.
At the end of the day, the teams all went back into the senate chamber to receive their awards.
Though they didn’t win, in Colt’s mind, the excellence award they received was as good as winning the whole shebang.
“No school from YMS has done this, let alone gone to the state competition,” Colt said. “The idea is that the kids wanted to solve a problem that they saw.
“Kids trying to be involved in their community and change things is really good for us, and these are people that will be leading us in 10, 15 years and they will know how to affect change because they’ve already done it.”