School engagement that’s almost too good to be true

Last year, we shared the very wonderful story of how Participatory Budgeting (PB) was introduced at P.S. 139, a local elementary school in Brooklyn where Miro (the son of our co-Executive Director Josh Lerner) goes to school.  PB addressed a sincere need at P.S. 139: a need to connect with families at a school of nearly 1,000 students, and to engage the school community in deciding how to apply remaining Parent Association (PA) funds for the year towards projects that best reflected their school’s needs.  

Inviting the school community to the decision-making process was so successful that the PA received a boost in support with additional PA donations and a matching gift from the school, resulting in $12,000 in PB funding in their first year.  

After announcing six winning projects, the school secured new recess equipment, musical instruments, Spanish language resources, and laptops. Each class painted decorative rocks and volunteers planted bulbs in their newly funded butterfly garden.

Exactly one year later, flowers are blooming in the garden as the school community at P.S.139 wraps up its second year of PB.

Claire Pearce is a fourth grade parent at P.S. 139 who’s been involved with the Parent Association since her daughter joined the school as a kindergartener. She produces the Rugby Road Reporter, a collaborative school newsletter with steadfast goals: build community in small ways, highlight positive news at the school, and help keep families informed.  

To celebrate the second year of PB, Claire was enthusiastic about producing a special PB issue of the Reporter.  She worked with ten talented students and their parents in what she describes as a very collaborative group effort and dialogue.  This issue elevates student voices in opinion writings on PB projects—with vivid project descriptions accompanied by impressive artwork! Students advocate for projects and back their opinions with specific and convincing reasons:

Ballot Project #10: Radio Show & Podcast | “It should give us important social skills for adult life, such as ability to speak up for our needs. We, as students, require a way to vent feeling and emotion, and this is a way to do so.”

Ballot Project #1: Museum of Math Program | “Don’t you think it would be way more fun to have different ways of learning math? I think so.”

Ballot Project #6: Books & Reading Rewards | “For the summer, students stop reading and then in the next grade they aren’t prepared and end up reviewing their stuff instead of learning new stuff and then that student falls behind.”

Reflecting on the PB process that led to this ballot, Claire remembers a particularly uplifting part of PB when students from kindergarten through 5th grade gathered with one another and their families to share pizza and project ideas:

“It was rewarding to me as a parent to listen to the kids and discover just how willing and ready so many of them are to volunteer their opinions.  I hope that children and young adults are always encouraged to believe in themselves and their ability to think constructively and creatively about topics of importance to them.  PB in Schools creates this forum that engages people of different generations and points of view in meaningful discussions that have a tangible impact. That is beautiful to experience at a young age.  My husband and I are so grateful that our daughter gets to experience this at her school. We’re all connecting to that positivity that PB in Schools inspires.”

Hearing about PB at P.S.139 from Claire’s reflections and perspective re-inspired our team at the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) to fiercely continue our work, and to empower even more folks to make the decisions that impact their lives.

Claire shared that “it’s easy to speak so sincerely about something that’s such a gift to a school,” and we couldn’t agree more.  Our team at PBP partners with education heroes like the folks at P.S.139 to strengthen school communities and give students, families, and educators real power over the real money that shapes their educational experience.

Because of her deep support for engaging children in exercising their voice and expressing themselves and their ideas through PB, Claire signed up as a PB Amplifier:

“There are so many incredible aspects to PB that make us better as people who become more willing to interact with others, and who learn how to genuinely listen and share ideas.  You can’t have democracy without civic engagement, and when people are encouraged to think about themselves as being part of their community in constructive and positive ways, the community has the potential to become healthier.”

In sum, Claire reminds us that PB, well, “it’s almost too good to be true.”

To join Claire in investing in our kids—and our democracy – sign up as an Amplifier here:

To learn more about how to start participatory budgeting at your school, visit our PB in Schools page.

About Ashley Brennan

Ashley supports the North American PB Network, PBP’s Participation Lab, and local PB processes and campaigns. As an Arizona native, Ashley coordinates the Phoenix Union High School District PB process—the first school district wide PB process in the U.S. When blogging for PBP, she most enjoys writing about the ways young people are transforming what it means to participate in democracy.

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