Queens students get on their soapbox 1

SoapboxNYC, a citywide speaking initiative, is just the beginning as students are encouraged to take their ideas further and get them in front of “decision makers.”

Six Queens students got on their metaphorical soapboxes last week to give a speech on issues they are passionate about to a virtual audience of over a hundred people including educators and community leaders who will help them act on their ideas.

The third annual SoapboxNYC event was a citywide speaking initiative put together by Civics for All, which is the Department of Education’s civic department, and Mikva Challenge, a civics education organization based out of Chicago. It took place last Thursday on Zoom and six out of the eight participants, grades K-12, were from Queens schools.

They addressed the prompt, “What is the biggest issue facing your community, and what should be done about it?” They have been workshopping the speeches in class since the fall.

“This is the opportunity for the kids to explore and research the topics that they’re interested about,” said Jenna Ryall, director of Civics for All.

Then, a take-action project takes place in the classroom fueled by the question “Where else does this speech need to be in order to make change?”

Ryall said it is less of a competition and more a “celebration of student voice.”

Luca G., a seventh-grader at IS 25, the Adrien Block School, in Flushing, spoke about flooding that his family experienced following the remains of Hurricane Ida in September and sewage issues that followed. Water came up through the toilet and bathtub and filled the basement.

“The sewers in our community, and urban planning in general, is a serious issue that must be resolved before it’s too late,” he said in his speech.

“We need to upgrade and improve our sewer systems. This dangerous situation must be fixed.”

Luca called for more investment from the city, repairs and better allocation of tax money.

“Since this event happened to me, I’ve been really passionate about the city fixing the sewers in our community,” he told the Chronicle.

He hopes his speech continues moving up and for someone in the city to address the issue.

Caydence P. is a first-grader at PS 390, The Civic School of Bayside Hills, and she delivered a speech on bullying.

“Did you know, one in every four children are bullied at school, at home, in the community or even online?” she said in her speech.

In an interview with the Chronicle, Caydence said she chose the topic because she was bullied in school.

“It made me want to talk about it and teach others about it,” she said. “It’s important.”

Caydence’s mother recalled her noting that it was “great that people as young as her got a chance to speak.”

After each speech, students received feedback and answered questions.

Next up for the students will be to focus on a “take action project,” said Ryall, and the facilitators are identifying decision-makers who can meet with them to further their ideas and help amplify the messages. They will continue the efforts leading up to Civics Week, which starts on March 7.