PHOENIX — Middle-schoolers are taking action to fix up their neighborhood park that hasn't been renovated in 30 years. They even arranged a meeting with city of Phoenix officials to tell them about their ideas.
A few years ago, Grand Canyon University attempted to acquire Little Canyon Park off 35th Avenue and Missouri, but city officials decided to keep it, and more recently, they began developing a plan to re-design it.
Thirteen-year-old Kassandra Salazar lives down the street from the park. It's a common field-trip spot for students and staff at Sevilla West Elementary School.
"The park's really meaningful to me, especially as a little kid because that's where I had some memories with my friends and family," said Salazar.
Mia DeLaRosa is the STEM educator at the school. She says the kids in her engineering club were inspired to help with the improvements, so they came up with their own ideas.
"One of the things that we believe strongly in is youth drive the work," DeLaRosa said. "Because if they are driving it, then they are passionate about what they're doing, and we really believe they need to be fired up about what they're doing so they feel like they're making a difference."
Many kids in the community don't have internet access, but they were able to work on the project while learning virtually from home using iPads donated to them through the Verizon Innovative Learning Program.
For the past six months, they designed and distributed a survey to members in the community asking what changes they would like to see in the park. They then created a presentation writing out their plan. Some of their ideas include new lights on the pathway to make it safer at night, a new mural that would better represent the community and signs throughout the park explaining the history of the community that lives there.
“I really think that they’re amazing ideas and if (the city) does incorporate it, it can not only better fit the community but the park users," Salazar said.
Salazar and her classmates then arranged a meeting to present their ideas to the city of Phoenix. The seventh-grader says she was nervous about speaking in front of city leaders, but with a lot of practice ahead of time, she was able to build confidence.
“They said it was amazing. They really liked our ideas," Salazar said. "So, I’m hoping from our presentation they talk to the city and these projects are incorporated."
Spokesperson for the city of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department Gregg Bach says they are working with city staff and some of the ideas presented to them will be taken into consideration as they work to get the designs finalized.
Bach says the design should be completed by the end of August, and construction is expected to begin in the fall and completed by spring of 2022.
DeLaRosa says the experience proves kids can make a real difference in their community if given the right tools to succeed.
“The past two decades, STEM scores in Arizona have been abysmal and so we’ve got to change what we’re doing," DeLaRosa said. "We can’t just take a kid and put them in front of a worksheet and say do this because I said so. They need champions who encourage them to be their best self and leave a positive mark on their community."