In the unconventional oasis of Montevallo, there is a broad range of educational opportunities. From Pre-K to a master’s degree, you can achieve a quality education at an affordable price. With this opportunity, the city hopes that young people in the education system would be willing to voice their opinion on how to better the city. The town receives opinions from University students, but not the youth of the city. This is where the Montevallo Students’ Institute is essential in uplifting youth voices and making an impact on the community.

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Throughout this internship with the DMC, I’ve relearned how important it is to be active in one’s community and how dire it is to believe you can make a change. As a political science major I had little experience working with students from 4th to 8th grade. I did know that increasing students’ self-efficacy is essential to the political and social process. This measure of civic engagement, known as self-efficacy, means how much children believe they can make an impact in their community. My goal throughout this initiative was to increase their self-efficacy. After a year full of field trips, scavenger hunts, and taking pre and post assessment data we guided students in debating issues in their community and ultimately increased their self-efficacy. These kids challenged me but ultimately taught me more than I anticipated. When we give back to our community by uplifting the youth, we make an investment in their futures.

The Montevallo Students’ Institute is a program that allows students to explore their resources in Montevallo and encourages them to address problems in their community. This puts focus on the youth perspective and uplifts their voices. By doing this, the city can gauge what they can be doing better to incorporate the youth. This initiative is broken down into three field trips. The field trips include students from Montevallo Elementary School and Montevallo Middle School, allowing students to work together. On the City Resources field trip we explored City Hall, the Fire Station, the Police Station and the Water Treatment Plant. They learn how a city works, what resources we have, and how they can make an impact in their town. This shows students they can be whatever they want, from a fireman to the Mayor, and that they can have a positive impact in their community by being involved.

Another field trip was dedicated to exploring the University. This lets students see what majors and degrees are available at the University of Montevallo. Students are encouraged to explore what they want after their secondary education. Showing students the resources they have in their community, such as higher education, increases their likelihood to pursue higher education in their future. We explored the differences between Stephens College of Business and the 3D Art Building. Each student found something they could picture themselves doing in the future. Our last field trip we had a project planning session. Each field trip ended with a breakout session where students can name issues in their community and frame solutions.This increases students’ self-efficacy by showing them they have everything they need in them to address issues in their community.

Throughout this process, this gives agency to students to increase their self-efficacy and socialize them to be civically engaged. By the time of the end of the program, 88% believe they are a part of the Montevallo community and 100% of students reported they believe they’re responsible for helping the community. At the end of these field trips, we usually have a students’ showcase to show off the kids’ hard work. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 we were unable to do this. But our efforts were not at a loss. 96% of students responded positively to having high rates of self-efficacy at the end of the program. This shows that civic engagement and investing into students’ lives is imperative. By doing this we plan for a better future and leave students with the agency they deserve to make a difference in their community.

By Madison Hollon, JOIP Intern in Montevallo