Today, Collegiate School 8th Grade students capped a week of thinking outside the box -- and outside the classroom -- by presenting to their peers, teachers and community leaders creative solutions to challenges impacting the Greater Richmond community. The presentations marked the culmination of this year's Envision Richmond program, the sixth iteration of the entire 8th Grade’s weeklong immersion into local nonprofits, coupled with hands-on lessons that helped the students strengthen their leadership and problem-solving skills and learn how to make a lasting, positive change.
All week, students separated into groups and traveled to different nonprofit organizations across the city that address a range of issues, such as food insecurity, lack of green spaces, homelessness, pediatric health and mental health awareness. The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), Greater Richmond ARC, Shalom Farms and the Ronald McDonald House were just a few of the hosts.
Local professionals from the 30-plus nonprofits the students visited served as panelists this morning as the 8th Graders shared their ideas and solutions. The panelists asked questions and made suggestions on how the students could improve the viability and impact of their concepts.
Middle School Humanities teacher and Envision Richmond Coordinator Laurie Shadowen said students’ opportunities to learn about needs beyond Collegiate and then collaborate on ways to address them always expands the mindset of 8th and prepares them to approach solving society's challenges with empathy, creativity and enthusiasm.
"They get the chance to see outside of the School, outside of their immediate community, and really get an understanding of what is happening locally and nationally," she said. "The goal for us is to motivate them to think about and contribute to our society in deeper, more meaningful ways."
In the Sandbox classroom located in the Sharp Academic Commons, one group presented the Green Kit, their idea to address food insecurity within neighborhoods throughout Richmond city known as food deserts, because of the lack of nearby grocery stores or farmer’s markets. The Green Kits would come in small, medium or large sizes, and contain seeds, soil, pots and nutrients so that people living in areas with a lack of fresh food sources could grow their own fruits and vegetables. Panelist Darquan Robertson, representing Green Work Force, commended the students on their idea.
"Growing up in an area that was a food desert, I would go to the corner store and just get a bag of chips, soda, whatever they had," Mr. Robertson said. "[The Green Kit] would allow people living in communities like mine to be healthier and break the addiction to unhealthy convenience foods."
Another panelist, Bob Argabright of Groundwork RVA, suggested that the students consider partnering with others to help make their future ideas and efforts successful.
"You'll always want to think of your network, the people and groups you know who are passionate about the same things you're passionate about, and who understand what you're trying to do. For this idea, you could call on Lewis Ginter [Botanical Garden]. They don't just grow flowers there, they are also urban agriculture advocates."
Another group of students presented a pediatric health idea: Diabet.net, a website designed especially for teens living with diabetes. To learn about the challenges youth with this illness face, the Collegiate students visited St. Mary's Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House. Panelist Blair Bell of St. Mary's encouraged the students to keep thinking of ways to "help remove the stigma of diabetes for children and teens," and approved of the Collegiate students' plan for their website to help diabetic teens connect with therapists online.
Students Marshall Ryan and Ava Nesser said they visited the Cameron Gallagher Foundation to learn more about how depression, anxiety and other mental health illnesses effect young people in Richmond and the surrounding areas. Both students were part of a group who presented an idea called Healthy Minds, a website where teens combating mental health illness could find support and encouragement from their peers and professionals.
"We realize that part of the problem is that teens aren't being educated early enough about mental illness, and they don't always know how to educate themselves about it, so our website is a solution to that," said Ava.
Marshall said Envision Richmond has expanded his perspective.
"It made me more aware of issues I wasn't aware of before. ... We're here in classrooms every day, we go to school every day, but [Envision Richmond] was a change. It helps us realize that we can actually do something to help in the real world. It gives us a voice."