Temple Student Government is helping Paul L. Dunbar School create and run its own student government.
The government, which is the first of its kind at the K-8 school on 12th Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue, is open for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. TSG members meet with the student government every Friday to talk about the responsibilities of a student government and why it’s important to be civically engaged.
About 20 Dunbar students were interested in running for positions after TSG first introduced the idea. Students could hold one of four positions: president, vice president, treasurer or secretary.
The students who were elected to this year’s student government said they want to start a mentorship program where middle school students mentor elementary school students and make art classes available at Dunbar.
“I am a leader, and I like helping people,” said Moniyah Harvey, an eighth-grade student and Dunbar’s student body president. “I am interested in doing fun things for me and my peers.”
“I believe I can make an impact in this school,” said William Barriner, an eighth-grader and student government secretary. “I want to make a change. I believe I can improve academics [at Dunbar].”
Kayla Martin, TSG’s vice president of services, said she was interested in bringing student government to Dunbar because young people are often unaware of the change they can create through the democratic process.
“Students don’t really understand the power they have in their own voices,” Martin said. “A lot of students think the world works a certain way, and they just have to submit to that. However, students have a lot of power to make changes that will affect their lives.”
The faculty adviser for Dunbar’s student government is Anna Johnson, a middle school language arts and social studies teacher and a 2003 African American studies alumna. She said civic engagement is especially important in today’s political climate.
“Because of the Black Lives Matter Movement, #MeToo, our current president, even our last president, children have an awareness of politics that the generation before them didn’t have,” Johnson added. “Being a part of that dialogue in middle school is a great way to prepare them for later in life.”
Dunbar students said they wish Temple would get more involved at the elementary school.
“Temple should interact with us more,” said Nastasja McGill, a seventh-grader involved in the student government. “You can come over here in your free time and help us with our work, because sometimes we don’t get that.”
Johnson said more engagement with Temple would make students more willing to prepare for higher education.
“It would really be cool if that university experience was extended to children in the area,” Johnson said. “It’s boring if your teachers and parents are saying you have to do well in school to go to a good high school and do well in college, but if someone who is 19 or 20 says it, it’s so much more influential.”
The incoming TSG administration, IgniteTU, said it would continue collaborating with Dunbar, as well as create additional scholarships for North Philadelphia students to subsidize the cost of Temple’s tuition.
“We want to talk to donors about starting scholarships for youth in the area,” said Student Body President-elect Gadi Zimmerman. “They’ve grown up around Temple their entire lives and if they want to come here, we want to give them that opportunity.”