A group of forty ten and eleven year olds at Founders Memorial School in Essex, Vermont participated in the fall session of SLP’s Residency Program. After brainstorming more than thirty social issues of concern, these passionate 4th graders chose to address Vermont’s growing homelessness crisis.
“We feel upset because homeless people are not getting the services they need and are not treated equally. We would like to help stop that.”
During the Research Phase of their project, the students took a deep dive into the causes, impact, and extent of homelessness in their community and throughout the state. After learning that Vermont has the highest rate of homelessness in New England, they discovered that a key factor is the dire lack of funding for programs designed to support Vermonters without stable homes such as supportive housing, mental healthcare, and job placement programs.
It’s a devastating problem they were determined to help solve. Class member Emma said, “We believe everyone deserves a home.” Oliver explained, “We believe that if we can stop homelessness in Vermont, we might be able to stop homelessness everywhere.” To advocate for increased funding, they decided to join the state-wide Homelessness Awareness Day. On a chilly January morning, they gathered in the early hours to travel by bus to Montpelier with their classroom teachers and SLP Faculty member Allie Cashel. After breaking into smaller groups to lobby six state representatives, they met with Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman and spoke in front of a large crowd during a Vigil on the steps of the State House. Check out the video below documenting this incredible day of activism.
In the days following, their advocacy has been shared by multiple local newspapers including the Essex Reporter, the Saint Albans Messenger, and the Times Argus. They also received messages of gratitude from representatives they lobbied including Senator Tim Ashe, Senator Christopher Pearson, and Representative Dylan Giambatista!
Their classroom teachers were overjoyed with the experience. “Anytime we can make a learning experience come alive for students in an authentic way, we give students the message that the things they learn in school are relevant, important and transferable,” said teacher Melanie Savio. “This opportunity for our students to lead an initiative and get floor time from high level stakeholders is a life changing event. Through SLP, students are empowered to take an active role in being the change they wish to see. It doesn’t get any better than this!“
We are so proud of these young advocates for all they achieved last month. As the Vermont program continues to expand, we look forward to seeing what young people around the state will accomplish next!