Civic Engagement Builds a Better Austin
Monitor in the Classroom which is conceived as a way to inspire young future voters to participate in civic activity. We help local educators make existing subject material more relevant to students via Austin Monitor reporting.
What we’ve accomplished:
An example of work produced by this partnership is that local high school students from Lanier reported, recorded, edited and produced their own “This American Life”- style radio program. Spurred on by a Tweet from an Austin American -Statesman reporter that suggested Lanier students had been the primary instigators behind a fight at a basketball game, students attempted to offer a portrayal of their school that differed from a narrative about the Lanier community posited. They explored issues of race, growth, and gentrification through the frame of Lanier’s history, as well as the neighborhood that surrounds it. The program aired on May 25th on KOOP Radio as part of the Austin Monitor Radio program. After the student-produced show aired, the producers joined the Austin Monitor for an interview about the project.
Students elected to pursue their concerns over traffic safety around Lanier High, and in neighborhoods surrounding the school, and wrote a resolution calling for improvements. The Monitor added a practical element to this exercise, arranging for a class visit with Austin City Council Member Greg Casar. In preparation for the visit, students prepared a powerpoint presentation. The meeting took place in Casar’s office on November 18, 2015.Armed with facts about the situation—and a great sense of timing, informed by Monitor coverage of a coming vote on the dispensation of transportation dollars—the students convinced Casar that the improvements should be considered for a portion of the dollars reserved for his district by Council vote. In late January, Casar invited Tabasco’s class to deliver their presentation to the rest of Council. Their proposal was included as part of a set of transportation-related expenditures pitched by the Council Member.
Math teacher Taylor Hawkins used Monitor coverage of the City of Austin’s sound ordinance—specifically, the behavior of sound waves--to teach a practical application of logarithms. To do it, Hawkins hosted presentations from an active neighbor concerned about the impact of sound waves from outdoor festivals held in Zilker Park on his quality of life, a promoter in charge of one of those festivals, and Austin Police Department reps who are charged with enforcing the ordinance. Each representative made arguments based on their positions. Austin Police reps offered details about the ordinance, how officials measure sound, and detail about enforcement. Hawkins then led his students through a series of regression tests using the school’s PA system. These were designed to mimic conditions in the field. Students then compiled their data, and presented it to a panel including the Monitor’s Kanin, Council Member Greg Casar, and the neighborhood representative. Each presentation reached conclusions about flaws in the current sound ordinance, offered solutions, and used the math associated with it all to address the issue.