Youth learn to take responsibility at citizen summit — with pop singer Nick Howard

MIDDLEBURY — A roomful of students from four Addison Central School District schools found themselves in a classroom this past Friday singing a hit song with the pop star who created it strumming along on his guitar.
The song: “This is Our Time.”
The singer: Nick Howard.
The venue: Bicentennial Hall at Middlebury College.
The event: ACSD’s inaugural Youth Citizen Summit.
The stars: Fifth- and sixth-grade students from Cornwall, Mary Hogan, Ripton and Salisbury elementary schools.
It came about as the college’s Language in Motion program and the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) worked with the local school district to create an event that culminated a learning unit that was focused on government and human rights. During the unit in school, students worked hard to take on various perspectives connected to places around the world while being open minded about others’ beliefs and opinions.
Students began the day with environmentalist Bill McKibben, who presented information and riveting photographs about the environment with a focus on how children are making an impact around the world.
“Young people have an enormous amount of power,” McKibben told them. “Part of being a citizen in a democracy is to make your voice heard.”
Students then participated in various workshops connected to their unit throughout the day. Workshops included inquiries into Constitutional law through a mock trial with Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson, attorneys Sarah Starr and Jennifer Wagner, identifying fake news with Deputy Publisher of Seven Days Cathy Resmer, taking action & action planning with MUHS’s SCHOR (Student Coalition On Human Rights) Club and taking the perspective of various countries’ laws regarding women’s rights with MUHS’s Model UN Club.
The elementary students also attended workshops facilitated by the Justice and Peace League, Migrant Justice, 4-H with Lauren Traister, the Vermont Humanities Council, and “What’s the Story with Tim O’Leary.” Students left the Special Olympics workshop facilitated by athlete Adrian Vaun and Rachel Hamm Vaughan with an action plan in place to engage their peers at school with a Respect Campaign.
Fifth- and sixth-grade students in The Great Hall at Middlebury College for the inaugural Youth Citizen Summit (Photo by Jason Duquette Hoffman). Below, Salisbury Community School fifth-grader Mercedes Sheldrick and teacher Bethany Morrissey.
Todd Balfour/Middlebury College
Middlebury College students led three workshops titled “Border Stories,” “Schools and Children Around the World” and “Global Laws, Do We Need Them?” College students from Language in Motion spearheaded by Kristen Mullins also organized a Global Expo during lunch where students engaged in various cultural activities connected to the college students’ international experiences and studies.
Sean Rhee, a Middlebury college junior, said he was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the younger students in the workshops.
“I was impressed by not only the attitude they brought to the events, but also the complex questions they asked and the thoughtful comments they made with regards to the topic,” he said. “They were very eager to share what they already knew, and were very open to asking questions for what they didn’t know. It was great to work with so many young, enthusiastic students!”
Avery H., a fifth-grader from Mary Hogan, said she enjoyed getting out of the classroom and onto the college campus. She especially liked the different tables at the Global Expo representing different countries and trying food, clothing and writing from different cultures.
Matthew McIntosh from Ripton said, “It was a great experience to learn about new and interesting things!”
Sixth-grader Channing Brush from Salisbury said everybody was “super nice” and she learned a lot.
“I definitely left the college with a wider understanding of human rights and I think the court process is very interesting,” she said.
Oprea Littlefied, a fifth-grader from Mary Hogan Elementary, agreed.
“I loved the summit,” she said. “My head was always bursting with ideas throughout the whole thing!”
A college administrator said the event was a learning opportunity not only for the ACSD students, but for the college students as well.
“Having an opportunity to share their experiences, perspectives and studies with young Vermonters broadens their own perspectives, connects them with the local community in new ways, and helps them to develop their presentation and facilitation skills,” said Kristen Mullins, assistant director of CCE, Language in Motion. “Plus everyone had a lot of fun!” A
The culmination of the day came courtesy of Howard, and of Salisbury Community School student Emma Morrissey. The sixth-grader reached out to musician Nick Howard during the school study unit and invited him to sing at the summit. He agreed, flew up from Nashville and sang his hit song “Our Time” with the students to close out the day.
“She and some friends were a fan of my song and they asked would I stop by and perform it,” Howard explained. “I just think it’s amazing when a song I have written resonates with someone that way, so I was more than happy to say, ‘Yes.’”
The song is a rousing anthem that celebrates the power of youth, energizing them to take on leadership for their lives and their future. One chorus goes:
This is our time, this is the moment
These are our lives, and we gotta fight
For what we believe, believe in what’s right
We are alive, alive, alive
Watch the video of Nick Howard’s performance here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=302203810439786
Editor’s note: This story was provided by Bethany Morrissey, a teacher at Salisbury Community School.

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