HANFORD — Advocating for change in the community might seem like a big undertaking for teenagers, but that’s exactly what students at Hanford West are doing this week.

Thomas Downs teaches three government classes at HWHS, and as his final project for the semester, he asked his senior students to identify an issue affecting residents of Hanford, attain support for the issue from the community and inspire community action.

The projects are culminating with presentations this week during finals. 

This is the first time Downs has done this project with his government students. He said he got the idea after noticing that students feel removed from the political process.

Downs said the mantra of district to try to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world.

“This project makes that happen,” Downs said. “It gives them a purpose and they’re building those 21st century skills that are going to be useful in the workforce and in college.”

In terms of picking which issues they wanted to address, Downs said he was purposefully vague so that students could determine what really mattered to them.

Four groups presented Wednesday on issues such as sanitation in public park restrooms, adding a crosswalk on a street near campus, gang awareness and prevention, and providing a homeless shelter in the city.

Downs said he thought it was important to make sure the students knew their voices would not go unheard, which is where the panelists come in; he brought in a rotating panel consisting of different community members to listen to the students.

On Wednesday, the panel consisted of Hanford City Councilman Francisco Ramirez; retired Avenal Police Chief Jack Amoroso and his wife, Susan Amoroso; civil engineer Alex Dwiggins; Kings County public health nurse Jacqueline Johnson; and Kings County health inspector Lupe Tapia-Villasenor.

The panelists not only listened to the presentations, but asked the students questions and offered their own unique perspective of the issued the students were talking about.

“The idea was that [the students’] ideas ultimately stand a good chance of being addressed, and at minimum, heard,” Downs said.

Part of the students’ presentations was relaying to the panel how they would like the issue to be solved. There was no requirement for the students to follow-up on the issues, but Downs said it was up to them if they wanted to pursue the issue further.

Nicholas Franks, 18, and Alexa Lopez, 17, said they initially dreaded the project because they thought it would be difficult and a lot of work. Afterward, however, both Franks and Lopez said they enjoyed the project.

“I really like it because it might actually change something in the community,” Franks said.

“I think it opened my eyes to a lot of the problems that we have in the community — nothing that I really took into consideration before,” Lopez said.

Every group was graded on the final project, but on the line for the students was extra credit points that would go to the group the panelists thought presented their issues in the most well thought-out manner. In the end, the panel chose the group that addressed gang awareness and prevention.

Erika Juarez, 17, said she has seen people she knows and other students on campus be affected by gangs or gang-related issues, which is why her group chose that problem to address.

Juarez said it was great to receive the extra credit, but more importantly, she was glad to have done the project and thankful to Downs and the panel for listening to the students

“Definitely after the comments and the information that the panel gave us, this issue is something that really needs to get fixed and going after it would be something beneficial toward the community,” Juarez said.

Downs said he was extremely appreciative of the panel for taking time out of their days and giving students validation for all their hard work. He told all his students that they exceeded his expectations and did excellent jobs.

The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanford sentinel.com

News Reporter

News reporter for The Sentinel

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