NCS students seek to make a difference with capstone projects
Students became the teachers last week at Newark Charter School, as the first of three groups of leadership students presented their capstone projects to a packed room.
Juniors Rogelia Carrizales, Romelia Carrizales, Grace Delaney and Katie Hamelin organized and led a homelessness awareness night, intended to inform members of the public about the issue of homelessness and how they can help.
Following the presentation, attendees packed 300 “go bags” – containing snacks, toiletries, socks and other items – to hand out to those in need.
“We wanted to make an impact,” Delaney said. “We’re taking our leadership skills and putting them to good use.”
The event was the capstone of the students’ three-year study of Global Contexts for Leadership, one of several career pathways Newark Charter high school students can choose.
The pathway focuses on building leadership skills and learning about current economic, political, social and environmental issues. For the capstone project, students are required to study a problem facing the community and research ways to address it.
“The objective is to create action behind leadership,” teacher Lisa Westerfield said. “I want to make them passionate about a change and use their leadership skills to make the change happen,” she said.
The students began brainstorming ideas last spring and have been working on their projects in groups since August. The other groups this year did projects on water security and heroin abuse.
“This class is a way for us to interact with the community,” said Josh Nicholson, who worked on the heroin project. “You hear about problems and get to do something to help.”
Karlie Dryden, who also worked on the heroin project, agreed.
“We find issues we want to target and help the community get involved,” she said.
Romelia Carrizales said she and her partners realize homelessness is a worldwide issue but hope to make even a small impact through their project.
“Helping one person is helping one more than before,” she said.
According to the students’ presentation, there are approximately 100 million homeless people in the world, 500,000 in the United States and 8,000 here in Delaware.
“It’s a global issue but it’s very real to us, even in a small town like Newark,” Hamelin said.
While a few panhandlers on Main Street or along a busy highway draw the most attention, the majority of homeless people do everything they can to avoid letting people know about their situation.
“We could be in class with someone and not know,” Hamelin said.
Rogelia Carrizales concurred.
“Kids who are homeless look just like us,” she said. “It’s an issue that’s gone on far too long and needs to be solved.”
Delaney noted that many experts believe homeless shelters are not the solution and merely prolong the problem.
“What homeless people really need is help stabilizing their lives and finding a place to live,” she said.
The students invited Marc Marcus, assistant director of the Newark Empowerment Center, to speak at their event. The center, based out of the Newark United Methodist Church, helps connect homeless people to services they need and also coordinates Code Purple temporary shelters on the coldest nights during the winter.
Marcus said the most common question he gets is whether people should give money to panhandlers, adding that he recommends people do not.
“Most of the time they have a really good story that doesn’t have anything to do with their real life,” he said. “Most of the people doing that are supporting their addiction.”
Instead, people should offer food or other supplies, like the “go bags” they packed during the event.
Newark Charter School juniors Grace Delaney, Rogelia Carrizales, Romelia Carrizales and Katie Hamelin organized a homelessness awareness night as part of their leadership capstone project.
Volunteers help pack “go bags” for the homeless during a homelessness awareness night at Newark Charter School.