The bell rings. Students spill from buildings into the hot, dry air of the desert. Concrete carries them into the sun. Heat waves along the horizon melt friends and buildings into distorted pools of color. The sting of the sun searing their skin distracts them from the oven-like air, but it does little to dull the warmth of the pavement that reaches through the soles of their shoes.
The tables and chairs they pass remain vacant except for the four brave students doing the balanced dance of socializing, eating, and wiping sweat from their faces. The cafeteria is packed with several students searching for a table; others standing near their friends.
Though it seems like just a glimpse, these moments capture a significant part of what it’s like to be a student in Arizona: the impact of the heat. No one wants to sit in the direct sunlight, slumping over a hot lunch.
That’s why students in Phoenix use participatory budgeting (PB).
Students in Phoenix Union High School District (PUHSD) have used PB to advocate for and fund additional shaded/indoor seating, new shade structures, misting systems, and filtered water fountains.
We’ve partnered with organizations and individuals in Arizona and New York to promote youth engagement and help create foundations for lifelong civic engagement.
Alongside the Center for the Future of Arizona (CFA) and PUHSD, we’ve supported district-wide participatory budgeting, investing in opportunities for students to play an active role in shaping their school environment.
Since beginning, the number of PUHSD schools doing PB has tripled; PB is set to increase to all 18 high school campuses in the upcoming academic year (2019-2020). In Arizona, where we helped CFA support the launch of PB three middle schools and two high schools in Chandler, the growth and impact of PB in Arizona has been astounding.
In the last three years of school PB, 30,000 Arizona students have voted on how $250,000 of district funds should be spent to improve their campuses. To connect school PB with broader democratic engagement, schools in Phoenix and Chandler help eligible students register as new voters in Maricopa County as well. This year, 1,870 students registered during the PB Vote.
In total, school PB has registered 3,135 students as voters, preparing them to cast votes in both state and national elections.
Describing the value of PB in schools, PBP’s Network Building Manager, Ashley Brennan, says “Getting people to interact who normally don’t interact breaks down power boundaries and puts everyone on the same team to think about how they can solve issues for their community.”
Check out what students think about participatory budgeting below:
“PB taught me how to make new friends and be more open to new ideas”
—Lucy, Carl Hayden High School
"I used to never be able to talk to people the same way that I am now. I used to be afraid to speak in front of large groups and now I'm more comfortable to do it."
—Angel, Cesar Chavez High School
“The voting day was such a wonderful day for everybody cause it’s the only day that really brought the whole entire school together--for probably the first time in a while.
—Jose, Alhambra High School
“It brought me out of my comfort zone and I don’t like that but it was really good. It let me talk to people that I don’t normally talk to."
“Before I came into PB I was in National Honor Society, and I saw it as a way of getting my community service hours. That’s all I wanted from it, but then when I came into PB it changed my views; I saw that not only can I change the campus, but I can also change other student’s lives. It really made us feel like we are in charge of this, and we are very important people, and our voices are being heard."
—Tayiza, Cesar Chavez High School
“We felt in control and in power of what was given to us. Instead of people making those decisions for us, we were actually doing work and doing research, and we feel like we were heard.”
—Katherine Pineda-Briceno, Veritas Academy
Beyond Arizona, we’ve helped spread PB to schools throughout New York.
We assisted the New York City Department of Education in their efforts to include PB as part of the Civics for All initiative, which brought PB to 48 high schools in NYC. Through our partnership with the New York State Education Department, we trained and supported educators bringing PB to their elementary, middle, and high schools for the first time this spring.
Students already have voices but school PB gives them what they often lack: the chance to wield the power of their voices to address their community’s needs.
Katherine Pineda-Briceno, a Civics student at Veritas Academy, explains, “We started thinking about what will make an impact—not just on us—but in the community.” The greenhouse project will allow students to earn community service hours and feed community members outside the school.
It’s never too early to start listening to the young people around us. That’s why PBP remains committed to engaging young people in opportunities to directly impact their communities, to develop leadership and communication skills, and to celebrate their voices.