8th grade students across the state submitted essays for this year’s contest.

Haley Springman, an eighth grader at Smith Academy in Williamsburg, took the first-place prize in this year’s MMA student essay contest, which drew entries from more than 500 eighth graders across the state.

The contest is intended to raise awareness and interest about local government issues among middle school students and to encourage their participation in local government. Participating eighth graders selected one issue that affects the people of their city or town and explained how they would bring positive change to the issue if they were the mayor or a select board member.

Contest judges considered creativity, clarity and an understanding of local government in their review of the essays.

Judging by the essays, road conditions and traffic, underage use of e-cigarettes (i.e., “vaping”), school funding and improvements, recycling, and pollution are some of the most concerning issues facing communities from a student’s perspective.

The contest winners focused their advocacy on solar energy, improvement of school infrastructure, and the addition of a student seat on the town council, with the honorable mention focusing on student bullying.

Second place went to Jovante Gonzalez of the Bellamy Middle School in Chicopee.

Third place went to Grace Johnson of the Amherst-Pelham Regional Middle School in Amherst.

Sydney Morse of Taunton High School received an honorable mention.

The MMA thanks all of the participating students for their thoughtful essays.

1st Place Winner: Haley Springman of Smith Academy

The Benefits of Solar Energy

Solar energy is a growing theme all around the world. There are solar powered planes, and solar plantations that will span for miles. What is stopping small towns like Williamsburg from accepting solar energy too? Williamsburg is a small hilltown found in western Massachusetts. They rely every day on their old town buildings such as the old town hall, the old school (that is no longer in use), library and more. While these buildings add a historical presence, they take a lot of work and money to maintain. They are exceptionally expensive since all of the town buildings rely on oil for heat and energy. Oil can be expensive if that is the only supply of energy you rely on. But if the town of Williamsburg was to invest in solar panels, they would not only be able to save money, but it would also be better for the environment.

If I were a town select board member, I would put finding a more efficient and cheaper alternative for oil, at the top of my list to look into. Retail heating oil costs about $2.96 per gallon this winter. That’s cheaper than it has been in the last few years. Although oil prices may have dropped, the town still has to pay for a lot of buildings that get used almost every day of the year. Oil is also very harmful for the environment. Oil byproducts are a source of global warming, can cause harm to many animals, and certain byproducts can cause respiratory, and heart diseases.

On the other hand, solar energy is the cleanest and most eco-rich renewable energy source in the world. Solar energy is a growing there in the United States. The solar companies are revisiting and improving their products every year. Currently there is about ten million solar energy systems installed nationwide. Solar energy is also providing over two thousand Americans with jobs. I would also pick a solar company that would install net metering. Net metering is when they supply you with a meter that ill spin backwards when you are receiving more solar energy that you are using. Some companies will then let you sell that extra solar power to other people. So, the town could even make money off selling the extra solar power they’re receiving in the future. However, solar energy can also come with a very substantial upfront cost. But, it has been proven in the long run that Solar energy is the efficient and a cheap alternative.

Money spent on oil to fuel these buildings takes money away from other much needed categories. For example, money is currently being withheld from the town schools that could be used to fund their arts program, or used to buy supplies. Also, there is funding being cut from public safety which could cause them to have outdated equipment, or not have the equipment they need. There are many other categories where the money could be better used. If the town was to support my suggestion, we would have the choice to revise the budget. With the new revised budget, the town may have the ability to be safer, and provide a better education as I mentioned earlier; as well as support other funding needs.

Williamsburg would benefit from using solar energy. Not only for the reasons I mentioned earlier, but for many more. If I had the option of being a select board member, or had the power to suggest the solution to this very problem Williamsburg has, I would make sure that the town did something about it. I would state my case, and show them all of the benefits of using solar electricity, and how the revision of the budget would help contribute to making the town safer and more efficient. There are quite a few changes that would happen if the town decided to go solar. But they would all be for the better.

2nd Place Winner: Jovante Gonzalez of the Bellamy Middle School

School Supervision

Among the problems in the city of Chicopee, Massachusetts, the most prominent is the state of the public educational facilities. Some of these facilities are underfunded and have outdated equipment. These include partially broken or nonfunctional heating or air conditioning units. Furthermore, due to the lack of maintenance, school supplies, and funding, some students may suffer the effects of this. Without proper care to schools in need, it’s unreasonable to expect overall high performance from students in these schools, if they don’t have access to comfort and useful resources. This is not only unfair to the students, but also the staff, who have to work with scarce supplies. It is vital that schools receive the attention they need, in order to ensure quality education for their students.

If I were in the position of the mayor, the first step I would take is create a committee to address education problems. This committee would be called the School Action Committee. I would then appoint the superintendent of Chicopee Public Schools as its director, as this individual has the most experience in leading an educational system. The members of this committee would meet on Mondays and Fridays to discuss and view the progress of school plans for each week. In the goal to provide financial support or other amenities, if needed for any public school. Allowing principles to act as members of this committee would allow more accurate insight of school issues due to their presence within the schools.

Funding may be diverted from schools within the district which don’t need it, allowing schools who do to benefit. Overall yearly budgets may also be changed due to decisions made by the SA committee. Other resources such as electricity or plumbing work, would be prioritized by city operated organizations. These resources may be called upon by the SA committee school maintenance. Local elections would determine the extent of resources that the SA committee would have access to.

This committee would be located in Chicopee City Hall, or may be moved to other government facilities in Chicopee. As mayor, I would collect the signatures of people in the community who agree with this idea, to provide the reason for the existence of such a committee. This committee and its associated powers, would be presented to the Chicopee City Council. In addition to the signatures of various members of the community. In the hope of approval. Its likely alterations would be made to the proposal after viewing, but it’s still plausible that the concept would be approved partially by the council. Due to its forward-thinking approach, the SA committee may lead to better school management. Granted, the positive opinion of council members for the idea.

To conclude, this plan would improve school conditions in Chicopee. This would happen as a result of allowing principals, who are the ones who experience the problems that affect the school district itself, accessibility to greater resources. Giving a voice to those who are a part of a problem greater than themselves may lead to new solutions. A good education system is critical to the development of a community or society. Having properly maintained and operated schools would allow this ideal to be achieved. Schools and students would benefit, and the effect would result in a better Chicopee, where the members of this city can support and grow it into the future.

3rd Place Winner: Grace Johnson of the Amherst-Pelham Regional Middle School

Students Voices Make a Difference

If I was a member of the Amherst Town Council, I would support the appointment of a student member to the council. I believe that students voice and opinions need to be listened to and taken seriously. The young people of today are much more interested and aware of political happenings that occur in the world around them. Their opinions have the ability to shape a new world for future generations, a new world that they very much want to play an active role in resulting in positive changes on many current event issues. Many students around the world today in 2019 are fighting to bring positive solutions to issues they are passionate about.

A 16-year-old girl from Sweden, Great Thunberg fights for climate change. She believes that without adults help, future generations will be left to suffer the consequences of the selfish and poor decisions past generations have made. Greta is now recognized as a political activist seeking to stop climate change; she spoke at the Climate Change Conference in 2018. “You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their eyes.” – Great Thunberg. Greta called out world leaders on their in-actions toward climate change. Greta showed great courage when she protested silently outside of Sweden’s Parliament, not worrying about the consequences.

Emma González, a survivor of the Parkland, Florida shooting on February 14, 2018 is an American activist and advocates for gun control. Emma González was in the school’s auditorium when the students and staff assumed that the fire alarm went off just for a drill, until first responders came on the scene and directed everyone to run. 17 people were killed that day. Parents, family, and friends will never have an opportunity to say goodbye to those whose lives were lost, or see them walk the halls again because they are forever gone. Emma supported the March for Our Lives Movement.

“If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened and maintain telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association.”- Emma González. González is not afraid to share her feelings, thoughts, and opinions about the shooting. Emma was not afraid to call out the president of the United States when he misled the public about the reason 17 people died on February 14th. Emma is trying to change the way the government thinks about gun control and wants them to fight for better and stricter gun laws. The President and his administration are supposed to protect all of its citizens, not only the ones that contribute monetarily to their causes.

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize Laureate. Malala grew up under Taliban occupation. When she was 11 years old she wrote a blog for the BBC about her life under the Taliban. At 11 years old she was already an activist hoping to create the Malala Education Foundation to enable girls to have an education. The Taliban did not encourage education for females but Malala persisted. In October 2012 Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while she was riding the school bus. He wanted to silence her voice. This horrific event did not slow down Malala’s passion as a spokesperson for education for women under the Taliban rule.

“We realize the importance of out voices only wen we are silenced.” – Malala Yousafazai. It was not time for Malala’s life to end yet, she had to finish what she began and the only way she could do so was to fulfill her dreams and wishes of educating young women. Malala’s courage encouraged other women to find their voices.

All three of these young activists share desires to achieve positive solutions for their issues. I believe if we had more student voices heard on a local town council and/or in local government, we would be able to view important issues from all different perspectives. Sometimes adults have the perception that young people don’t know enough to be an activist. These three activists have proven them wrong.

Honorable Mention: Sydney Morse of Taunton High School

In August of 2018, a 9-year old boy committed suicide because he was being bullied on Facebook. A 9-year old should never have to go through that. Another 9-year old girl killed herself because of racist comments about her. Many suicides are from young children. All because of bullying. That is never okay. No one should have to feel like they have no worth.

Over 3.2 million students worldwide are victims of bullying every year and only 20 to 30 percent speaks up and notified an adult. I am one of those victims. I have been bullied since kindergarten to the middle of the seventh grade. I finally told someone, but bullying really affected me. Now I have low self-esteem and depression. The bully abuses because they don’t like who they are and they want others to feel the same way they do. Also, people might bully because they have been bullied themselves and that’s all they know how to do. Most bullies are jealous of others and want to tease or hurt them to get what they want.

Here in Taunton, all schools should have a class that teaches students how to have self-control and how to deal with harassment from bullying. Not like a health class, but an actual class that taught us how to build each other up, instead of knocking each other down. No one deserves to get bullied. Bullying could cause depression, anxiety, and worst of all suicide or as we see a lot these days, school shootings.

The class could teach students how to have a positive mindset about ourselves and others around us. This class would be the first step to a better future. Here at Taunton High School, there are 3,000 students that will grow up and be the future of the world.

I am from a big family. I live with 8 people. I asked all of them if they ever got bullied. 3 of them said “no” but they are just 7 months, 5 years old, and 7 years old. My mom and my step dad said they got bullied when they were in high school. My mom got her hair pulled on the bus and my step-dad almost got in a fight. My older sister got spit on. Bullying is hard on people and some people don’t know how to cope with it. They think that if they just forget about what happened or just ignore the problem than all of it will go away. Little do they know it will only get worse. The pain will only grow.

The class isn’t just for people who get bullied. It’s also for people who have low self-esteem and need to generate acceptance of who they are in a supportive setting. In the class, the teacher could hand out papers for goals, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and maybe gratitude ABC’s. You may be wondering what gratitude ABC’s is, well it is where you write the ABC’s down on a different line and each letter you have to write something you are grateful for. Each day could have a quote about loving yourself or others. I read a quote that said “…Right now, let me be that Voice. Right now, let me tell you: You are strong. You are Beautiful. You are Capable. You are Worthy. You have had mistakes. You have lashed out. You have hidden your dreams, your lights, and your power…” Just that one quote could help. This class would teach us that we have the power of our happiness. Everyone makes mistakes, we might hurt someone and not even know it. This class can give us and others to stand up for peace and love.

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