West Valley students make big changes

West Valley students now have a say in the improvements made at their schools thanks to a program designed by Valley of the Sun United Way and the Walmart Foundation.  

Valley of the Sun United Way (VSUW) and the Walmart Foundation developed the United Way Youth Engagement Program through a $125,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation.

“My goal has been to work with United Way to develop programs that make sense for the Phoenix community,” Javier Angulo, Walmart senior director for community relations, said. “So, this latest project is what the [Walmart Foundation] and United Way have come up with from scratch after having discussions in terms of how to make the greatest impact in the Phoenix community.”

The program is geared toward sixth, seventh and eighth graders in the Isaac, Alhambra, Washington and Cartwright School Districts in the West Valley. It encourages the participating students to be involved in the decision-making process when it comes to improvements for their school campuses.

“This program is a unique program that was brought to us with Walmart and [we are] collaboratively looking around social democracy with students and civic engagement. Knowing that our youth has brilliant ideas and wants to engage at the civic level, which means that they make choices based on what all the student body wants,” Dawn Gerundo, VSUW director of community impact, explained.

The students participating in the program completed a proposal and pitched the ideas to the program leaders at VSUW and the Walmart Foundation.

“It’s really giving students the power and ability to make their own decisions about what’s best for the community, but also it involves students in the decision-making process,” Angulo said. “That, we hope, also empowers students to think about being more involved in the community.”

The students then received grant money based on a budget they developed and included in the proposal.

“It is very, very apparent when you read them that some of [the proposals], they are written by students. And, remembering these are sixth, seventh and eighth graders. So, 11, 12 and 13-year-olds writing them, they did an astonishing job putting this all together,” Gerundo said.

The students put together proposals about an aspect of their school that could use some improvement.

“The students just created these marvelous proposals. It’s really rewarding to see how much effort students have put into this project,” Angulo said.

Toward the end of the school year, the students will conduct an impact study to determine how the project made a difference at their school and affected the overall student body.

“I think this program allows students to think about the impact they could potentially have in the communities they live in,” Angulo said.

He explained that the program teaches the students to utilize resources and pursue ideas that can benefit their communities.

“These students can take these skills that they use in this process for things that they would need later in life,” Gerundo said.

Sierra Ciaramella

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