Fifth grade students at Liberty Elementary participated in an authentic, home-hitting PBL project this month to tackle the driving question, “How does construction in our neighborhood affect my school, our town and the environment?” The project was dubbed “This Land is Your Land”, and students explored their active role in their own community. Late in 2017, the Whitman Property behind Liberty Elementary School broke ground on a new development. Students witnessed the start of the construction, the removal of trees, and blasting to make room for the new homes. This provoked the fifth graders to start asking probing questions about what was being built, why the trees were gone, and how this would affect them as students and citizens.
As the students began asking questions, this led to the conversation and ultimately the debate of which was more important for a community; the conservation of ecosystems, or the developing growth of an economy? Students then reviewed multiple images of the development of the area over the past ten years, before and after Liberty Elementary was built, and the ecosystems and local wildlife that were also located behind the building. They decided which side of the debate they resonated most with and took on job roles that would support their argument. The fifth graders began researching how their job title affected the development or preservation of land. Job roles included environmental scientists, engineers, lawyers, urban planners, land surveyors, real estate agents, architects, project managers, construction workers, and many more!
Many students were guided by fifth grade teachers to attend the South Riding Town Hall Informational Meeting on February 7th. To continue the researching phase, students explored avenues in which they could present their arguments and opinions to community members. Jeff Salmon, the Dulles District Representative for the Loudoun County Planning Commission and Supervisor Matt Letourneau spoke with the fifth grade class about presenting ideas in a Town Hall meeting. They discussed with the students how citizens are able to formally propose ideas to a board of members at a town hall meeting, as well as the steps and formality of approval for the development behind Liberty. Students then took this information and applied it to creating their own Town Hall meetings with their team presentations and invited parents, community members, and town hall representatives to listen to their proposals.
After the town hall meetings concluded, the fifth graders reflected on their presentations and were asked to examine how their role in the community has changed. Many students felt empowered and had the realization that their voice and opinions mattered and could affect the outcome of choices made in their community: a life lesson that is priceless among this generation of future leaders.