On Friday, October 21st, students from Montevallo Elementary, Middle, and High Schools set off on their first of four field trips as participants in the DMC’s 2016-2017 Students’ Institute.

The group had a packed schedule, and began their day with a pre-survey on their experiences as civic participants in the Montevallo community. Following an introduction by the Center’s Executive Director, Cristin Brawner, the students learned a bit more about the ways ordinary citizens can be a force for change in their own communities. The students discussed quotes from famous Americans on the topic of active citizenship, and with a historical perspective in mind, they set off for their first destination–Orr Park.

As the students arrived at the park, they were greeted by Montevallo Councilwoman Dee Woodham, who is currently spearheading the Creek Bed Erosion Project at the park. She spoke with the students about bringing the issue of creek bed erosion to public consciousness, and championing an issue which she was passionate about, and one which most people in the community were unfamiliar.

The next activity, which took place at Montevallo’s City Hall, allowed students to get a glimpse of Montevallo’s Main Street revitalization project, as they heard from one of the project’s forerunners, Sarah Hogan, who gave an exciting presentation alongside Steve Gilbert, Director of Montevallo’s Chamber of Commerce. Both speakers asked for sincere input from the students on what might be done to improve the city’s Main Street. This was an opportunity for the students to internalize the importance of their active participation  as citizens in the community. Additionally, Montevallo Mayor Hollie Cost showed off the new City Hall facilities for the students,  and welcomed them to drop by and chat with city leaders about their ideas for the city.

Perhaps the most exciting outing for the students came with a sunny trip to the University of Montevallo’s Community Garden, where UM Community Gardener Holly Wadleigh showed them how fruitful an asset the garden can be to both those who invest time and work at the garden, as well as those who receive donations from the garden through Shelby Emergency Assistance. Amongst the whimsical butterfly garden, the spirals of the labyrinth, and the innovative solar-powered watering hose, the students discovered how much fun community involvement and active citizenship can be, and were eager to learn more under Wadleigh’s guidance.

After a brief intermission for a well-earned lunch, the inaugural field trip resumed with an asset mapping and brainstorming session about ways that the students can improve and further invest in the Montevallo community. As part of the Students’ Institute, the ideas from this session culminate, over the course of the academic year, in full-fledged civic engagement projects. The students ruminated on a variety of personal interests and then grouped together with others who held similar interests to help each other further develop their ideas through deliberation in small groups.

The concerns and ideas that materialized from these conversations included work on ongoing projects, such as an oral history entitled The Montevallo Story, as well as new and original project ideas, such as bringing food trucks to Montevallo and opening a youth-centric cafe offering an Acceptance Program, complete with poetry slams.

All in all, the first expedition of the Students’ Institute brought about a plethora of refreshing perspectives and equipped students to deliberate as individuals of their communities in a way they may not have believed to be possible before. The students were remarkably enthusiastic about their community, and passionate about pursuing their projects.

We at the DMC cannot wait to see these students accomplish by the end of the year! We also appreciate the dedication of their instructors to the students’ educations and civic capacities by encouraging and enabling them to participate in this program.

Written By Rebecca Davis, Jean O’Connor-Snyder Intern from the University of Montevallo