El Segundo Middle School Students Take Charge in Their Communities

Dylan and Veronica are among 280 ESMS 8th graders completing the project this year.  The work of ESMS students like them recently earned El Segundo Middle School the Civic Learning Award of Merit from the Judicial Council of California. ESMS joins just two other middle schools in Los Angeles County and 14 middle schools across the state to receive such an award.

A letter from the Chief Justice of California, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, honors ESMS’s “commitment to empowering students with knowledge, skills and interests that will enable them to actively participate in our democracy.” The letter notes that state officials are “particularly impressed that [ESMS] engages students in opportunities that incorporate research-based, proven practices in civic learning.” 

The school’s eighth grade Community Project, first implemented in 2014-15, is the primary driver earning ESMS the distinction. As part of the school’s International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme implementation, students engage in a yearlong process to identify and research a problem in their community, take action to address the problem, and reflect on the change process. All the while, they maintain a journal noting their efforts, seeking advice and counseling from their teachers, and consulting other mentors in the field. According to International Baccalaureate Organization literature, “the Community Project gives students an opportunity to develop awareness of needs in various communities and address those needs through service learning.”

Students this year have exceeded expectations in the depth and breadth of their projects ranging from providing quality literature to inmates, collecting and donating baseball equipment to the Lennox Little League, to providing musical entertainment at a local senior center.

Kim Stern, 8th grade teacher and IB coordinator, explains that “what sets the Community Project apart is that instead of asking students what they would like to do, they just get in there and do it.  They really create a personalized learning experience by identifying a passion of theirs, and taking action in the community.”

ESMS students Gabi Desch-Obi and Natalie Cloutier-Chaine, who have hosted drives to donate items to neo-natal intensive care units, wholeheartedly agree. Gabi notes, “it really shows us that we can create change. Sometimes, it feels like we just get caught up in homework and school work, and through this project, we really make a difference.”

“And we get to experience something totally different and see other perspectives out there,” Natalie chimes in. “Working with the NIC-u has been really eye-opening.”

ESMS Principal, Jack Plotkin, notes the award from the state is validating students like Gabi and Natalie’s efforts. “I wish everyone could see the work each of our students are doing here. It is really remarkable – the project shows them they have power and also teaches them to clear the hurdles that arise when we try to create change. I’m very proud of them. And it’s nice to see the state is too!”

El Segundo Middle School students will present their Community Projects the week of May 23 with a showcase of top presentations on May 27 in the ESMS Bulldog Hall, located at 332 Center Street, El Segundo, CA 90245.