BERWYN – Students at Irving Elementary School in Berwyn South School District 100 saw there was a problem at their school, so they used their voices to make a positive change.
The fourth- and fifth-grade students in the school’s Our American Voice club thought the narrow gate opening leading from the playground to the school entrance was a potential hazard.
After they brought it to the attention of district leaders, the school now will get a wider gate this summer. The gate at Irving will no longer be adjacent to the building, but instead, it will be a double-gate in the middle of the fence.
And not only that, all schools in the district with the same problem will get wider gates as well. The work will begin this summer, and all the new gates should be ready when school resumes in the fall.
Iris Williams, 10, is an Our American Voice club member who said getting a wider gate is really important to her because students often push each other as they try to get through, which has caused students to get hurt.
“The brick wall is right next to the gate, and students get scratches if someone pushes them,” she said. “This makes me feel really good. Sometimes even small things make a big difference. Kids have a voice, and people will sometimes listen more to kids than adults. That’s one of the things I like most about OAV, it teaches us that we can speak out and make a difference.”
Tricia Stevens, fourth-grade teacher and club sponsor, said the lines at the gate during recess and before and after school are always backed up and could cause a serious problem during an emergency if the students couldn’t exit quickly. Also, because the gate opening is so close to the building, rain and snow from the roof fall directly onto the ground, causing students to slip and fall in the winter, she said.
Stevens explained that the project, which began last fall, is mostly student led. After club members came up with a solution to widen the gate, they contacted George Lambesis, director of buildings and grounds for District 100, and invited him to the club meeting where he could see the problem firsthand. Stevens said district administrators had no idea about the problem.
“This was a great lesson for the students. I told them they need to have watchful eyes and use their voices because leaders aren’t always aware of a problem,” she said. “They were able to impact many other schools as well as their own and help avoid dangerous situations in the future.”
Ashley Leyva, 11, helped to create a video that shows how crowded the gate gets as the students try to file through. The fifth-grader said the video helped to explain the problem to district administrators.
“This makes me feel great. I’m really proud of my OAV club and my teacher. A lot of students are really excited,” she said.
Stevens hopes the students will continue to speak up when they see problems, and she said she’s very proud of them.
“Now there’s more of an emphasis on kids using their voices to make a difference, and society is starting to take kids more seriously,” she said. “They have seen that they made a difference. The kids have this [Our American Voice] program that teaches them what to do when they see something that they’d like to change but don’t know how to. We teach them how to solve problems.”