Fourth-grade students from Founders Memorial School (FMS) recently had the amazing opportunity to visit the Vermont State House and speak with legislators about an issue they deemed extremely important.

The trip to Montpelier coincided with the state’s Jan. 15 Homelessness Awareness Day with the fourth graders advocating for increased funding and support for Vermont’s homeless population.

“We believe that if we can stop homelessness in Vermont, we might be able to stop homelessness everywhere,” said Oliver, a Founders Memorial student.

Fellow student Emma said, “We believe everyone deserves a home.”

“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 FMS fourth-grade 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 Service Learning Project, students are empowered to take an active role in being the change they wish to see. It doesn’t get any better than this!”

The students had been working since October with Service Learning Project (SLP)--a Brooklyn-based student-driven civic engagement program which has recently expanded into Vermont. SLP is organized around a founding principle that: children and teens of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities can use their powerful voices to make positive change in their schools and neighborhoods.

“We were devastated to learn that one-third of all homeless adults and children in New England are here in Vermont. We feel terrible that not every person can have a comfortable and safe home--a place to make memories. It’s hard to think about how there are so many homeless people in our state, and it’s even harder to think about them trying to survive the winter,” said Lizzy, one of the students involved in the project.

“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,” added Lael.

During school-day and after-school programs, youth in grades K-12 work together to help solve social problems of their choice. Driving every step of the process, SLP students have tackled issues ranging from child nutrition to bullying to homelessness to the environment.

Nearly 40 FMS fourth graders met weekly with SLP faculty member Allie Cashel to establish the focus of their project, research it, and develop their action plan. After brainstorming and considering more than 30 issues to tackle, the group chose to address the homelessness crisis in Vermont. They took a deep dive into the causes, impact, and extent of homelessness throughout the state while also meeting with Reagan Murphy, a representative from the Committee on Temporary Shelter, to learn about potential solutions.

The students then went into the action plan phase of the project and prepared for their visit to the State House. They set up individual meetings and prepared detailed advocacy presentations for six state representatives (Tim Ashe, Linda Myers, Christopher Pearson, Phillip Baruth, Marybeth Redmond, and Robert Bancroft) and spoke directly to Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman about their passion for this issue.

“We are so proud of our young advocates and the work they are doing to help create tangible change in our community and beyond,” Cashel said. “It was wonderful to see the students’ knowledge on this issue evolve over the past couple of months and to see their commitment to ending homelessness in Vermont continue to grow. Working with Melanie Savio, Colleen Legris, and the whole team at FMS has been a joy. I am so excited that these students have set the tone for future SLP student groups here in Vermont.”

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