The first time I walked into an Urban School was the Spring of 2011.  I had just moved to Dallas from Flushing, MI (just outside of Flint and yes I have heard every joke about the name) and started work with the Dallas Regional Chamber in their education space.  When I thought of education, I thought of my own experience.  Four elementary schools feeding into one Junior High which fed into one High School.  I was able to go on field trips, I learned on a computer, I had hands-on learning opportunities and I had a world of options when it came to extracurricular activities.  Little did I know, that was not the norm. 

Schools looked different.  They felt different.

This began my love for public education.  I couldn’t read enough about urban schools and what they needed to succeed.  I spent time in Austin listening to policy behind public education.  I spent time in the classroom learning about these students and what they thought they needed to achieve their goals.

Then to be asked to consider applying for Mayor Star Council so that I can further impact education? Absolutely!

Our 2013-2014 class is almost complete, but the number of things we have been able to accomplish as a team are humbling.  For me, I serve on the Project Committee, where we decided to commit to a project that would be sustainable and life changing for the students involved.  Little did I know the planning and work would bring such reward.

As a Project Committee, we decided to develop a leadership training program for Sophomore students who wanted to do something more than just be in a leadership class.  We wanted students who may not otherwise receive an opportunity like this.  We wanted students who saw true value in their neighborhoods, they just needed some support and resources to make change happen.  We wanted students who were committed to Dallas and wanted to be leaders of change in their schools and communities. 

Starting with five high schools, South Oak Cliff, Madison, Lincoln, Adamson and Roosevelt, we asked students to apply to participate.  The applications we received were heartfelt and were writing samples of students who truly desired change in their communities and wanted to be leaders in the developments. 

Since, we have meet bi-monthly since the end of January teaching students about their communities, what it means to be a leader and why they are already leaders, even if they don’t recognize it yet.  Students participated in a neighborhood clean-up where they had to rally up students to go clean a neighborhood, on a Saturday morning, that wasn’t even theirs!  100+ students later, we had two neighborhoods cleaned and a change in prospective for a number of those who participated. 

Now, we are on to our community projects.  Students have been tasked with identifying challenges in their communities and tangible ways to help alleviate the barriers. 

Enter: Lauren (sans the Michigan accent). I would like to continue at this point in the story to discuss these community projects. Like Christie, I too have long been passionate about education. Dating back to 2008, this love has evolved into a specific interest in the external factors outside the school day such as community and family that actually end up not being external at all.

With a student’s academic performance being heavily dependent on experiences outside of the classroom, why not take the curriculum beyond the last bell of the day and outside the front doors? Our students are being educated in every moment of their lives, absorbing what they hear, see and experience that will mold them into who they will become.

With the Mayor’s Rising Star Council, we are hoping to be one more educator to open the window of choice and knowledge, specifically when it comes to their communities. Not just teaching an assessment of “what is wrong with our neighborhood?” but rather taking the approach of, “who are we?” and “what do we strive to become?”

This is exactly what the 2014 MRSC class has been able to discover as they worked towards completing their very own grant proposal for their community project. A discovery of debate, teamwork, community engagement and bright ideas ranging from a food and clothing pantry to an Arts Festival to a t-shirt campaign to an Academic Pep Rally to a historic sculpture project. All student created and student designed. This next month, the MSC team will award funding to support one of these ideas for the capstone community project to be implemented by the students over the summer in all 5 South Dallas neighborhoods.

The lesson of the day? When we are educated we become aware. When we are aware, we can create change. A change from within that begins with the education known as everyday life to our students. At MSC, we’re just providing the curriculum and handling roll call ;)

Lauren Sanderson and Christie Myers | 2013-2014 MSC Members