New London students take city development into their own hands
BY KARYN SPORY
Mt. Pleasant News
NEW LONDON – It’s not just adults who can make their city a better place. Middle schoolers in New London are learning they can effect change in society.
Last semester, Mrs. Tori Kenel’s eighth-grade class read “The Giver”. Following the reading assignment, they were tasked with creating their own utopia and then trying to convince their peers to join their society. But Kenel knew there were real-life applications to the project, so she challenged her students to find them.
“I think it’s very important for students to connect (their learning) to the real world and outside of the school walls, so we did the ‘Improve New London Project’,” said Kenel.
This was the first year for the Improve New London Project, but Kenel says it’s likely something she will continue.
“This group, they just ran with it,” she said. “They had to do everything. If they needed information about something, they had to make the phone calls.”
One group, Kenel said, was very concerned about potholes within the city. “With their bicycles and long boards, it’s an issue,” she said. “But once they actually researched it and learned more about it, they found out the city was doing a good thing. Potholes in Iowa are a constant battle and when they realized the city had a schedule and was using the right material, they had to come up with something different.”
So back to the drawing board they went. “After that we wanted to do a skate park, but that was already being planned to do so we hit another speed bump,” said group member Maclane White.
The group of four didn’t wander for long as Jasmine Dodson found an idea that hadn’t been done before, a dog park.
The group thought the idea would work because there aren’t many dog parks around Southeast Iowa. “We thought it might bring people into (New London),” said Clayton Phillips.
Although they were excited about proposing the dog park to two city council members, which was part of the project, White said the most valuable thing he learned was sometimes you just need another idea. “You may have something you really want to do, but you need to be able to move past that,” he said.
Recently, Kenel attended a city council meeting where she informed the board of her student’s ideas, which ranged from the dog park, to a pharmacy, bringing back the city’s fall festival, building a city pool, having a farmer’s market, a REC Center or a café. During the meeting, Kenel told the council, “I don’t just want us to sit here and say it’s a good idea, I want us to do something with these ideas.”
One of the items was approving a location, and possibly a supply donation for a Little Free Library.
The group of Sofie Reighard, Morgan Kenel, Cayden Wahls, and Paxton Blow believed what New London really needed was a Little Free Library. A Little Free Library works as a “take one, leave one” library.
The group had seen examples of the Little Free Library in Fairfield and Mt. Pleasant. The trick was figuring out how to build one, and where the best spots in the city would be – in front of the city’s library and at the city park. Before classes were released for winter break, the students found out plexiglass for the Little Free Library had been donated. “This is becoming a successful thing. Us, as teenagers, are doing something good for New London,” said Morgan.
“I was really impressed with their ideas and their willingness to make change happen. I think sometimes we can write off kids as being kids and I think they sometimes write themselves off. They are our next generation. I want them to know they have good ideas and they can push for change no matter their age.”
She continued, “If they have experience like this when they’re young, my hope is that when they’re older they will continue to push for change no matter where they go.”