By Students For Students

Idea Leader
: Edwin Jonathan Paz

Location: Mansfield, MA

Partner Organization: Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

Project Summary: Jonathan Paz, 17, and his fellow members of the Massachusetts State Student Advisory Council developed an interactive presentation that tells the story of two characters that demonstrates the different between someone who drops out and someone who attends college. Working with the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the high school students toured their presentation reaching 1500 middle schools throughout the state.

Massachusetts State Student Advisory Council Announces "By Students for Students" Initiative to Reduce Dropout Rate

A group of high school student leaders have launched a statewide initiative to engage middle school students in student-to-student conversations aimed at reducing the state's dropout rate. The "By Students for Students" campaign was created by student representatives of the Massachusetts State Student Advisory Council (SSAC), a group of students elected by their peers from schools throughout Massachusetts to promote student rights and initiate projects that will make positive changes in local schools. SSAC student leaders will visit middle schools throughout Massachusetts from March to June to present an hour-long interactive presentation geared towards the transition between middle and high school. SSAC student leaders have researched the Commonwealth's dropout rates and will talk directly to middle school students about the importance of attaining a high school diploma.

The State SAC has its own projects, but also helps coordinate those of the Regional SACs. The SSAC serves as a communication network to share educational information among all students. The student chairperson of the state SSAC serves as a full voting member of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Jonathan Paz from Mansfield High School, who is the SSAC Vice Chair for 2010-2011, wrote and won a $15,000 grant from America's Promise Alliance through the organization's My Idea grant program. He headed the campaign as its director.

The presentation focuses on keeping students engaged and motivated. Through the use of Prezi software, the presentation maintains the attention of students as it jumps in and out of a cartoon path of a student’s life. The introduction of two characters, Kevin and Joe, is used to better demonstrate the different paths between someone who drops out and someone who attends college. These two characters interact with the speakers during different stages of their life and respond to the speakers’ various questions. In addition, the speakers do not just tell the students why they should not drop out, they show them. Through the stories of people who dropped out, the middle school students see firsthand the struggle that accompanies those without high school diplomas.

The first "By Students for Students" presentation has taken place at the Middle Level State Conference (this year in Mansfield) in front of 200 middle school students from across the state. The campaign thereafter has visited middle schools throughout the state that feed into high schools with low graduation rates. These schools have covered a range of Massachusetts branching from Holyoke to Haverhill to Dorchester. The campaigning has presented around a dozen times to a variety of schools. SSAC members showed up to these schools with “Student Survival” pamphlets, statistic brochures, campaign buttons, pencils and much more.

Those involved in the campaign have spent innumerable hours creating every aspect of the presentation, contacting middle schools, and reaching out to media outlets to create further awareness of the dropout issue in Massachusetts.

State Delegate Ryan Cassey, who was the campaign technician and video designer noted on the progress: “It was really cool to see us get across to these kids in ways I would never believe we would with any presentation.”

State Delegate Amanda Louro noted: “This has been an extremely rewarding experience. It gave me an indescribable feeling of accomplishment and the sense that I have helped others in my community.”

Towards the end of the campaign, director Jonathan was asked by a journalist when he would see the campaign become a success. He responded: “I have been very happy with our work; we have touched the lives of over 1,500 kids across the state. Yes, there have been many mistakes and at times we could have done things differently but knowing that we have started movement in my eyes is where the true success will lie. The council and its future leadership hopefully will continue the movement next year. I know they will. In my eyes, their work in the future will be the success.”