Correction: When this story originally aired, it incorrectly stated that the student who was recently shot by a campus police officer at Hug High was killed. The version below has been corrected.
Students at Hug High School in Reno are asking city leaders for help in making positive changes in their community. They say seemingly small improvements, like adding more street lighting and placing recycling bins at bus stops, will increase safety and pride in and around the school.
It’s 8:30 in the morning in Janna Moyer’s Speech and Debate class at Hug High, and students are settling into second period.
It’s a small group, only about 10 kids, but they're taking on a big project, trying to make their community a better place to live.
Last week, 16-year-old Alejandra Alcaide, along with about 30 other students from Moyer’s classes, went downtown to Reno City Hall to ask leaders to address some issues. Chief among them is there isn’t enough street lighting in the neighborhood around the high school.
“Some streets have no light posts, which is dangerous for cars to view people walking down the street to local stores in the night or students walking home from afterschool activities,” says Alcaide. “It’s more possible [sic] for robberies or shootings to occur when it’s poor lit."
The students also asked the city council to commission a mural on the nearby Reno Livestock Events Center and add recycling bins at bus stops. They say the improvements would increase morale in the community.
“As soon as the first young woman spoke about the streetlights,” says Ward Three City Councilman Oscar Delgado, “Councilman McKenzie tagged me on a text to our liaison saying, ‘Let’s set up a meeting to walk the area with our public works staff to see what are the issues,'” says Delgado. “So our hope is that [there are] results in the next few months, next few weeks."
The student presentations may also have some extra benefits. Throughout the process, the Hug High classes received mentorship from students from the University of Nevada, Reno. Mary Hylton a professor of social work at UNR, oversaw the project.
“The research shows that the more people are civically engaged, the healthier they are both physically and psychologically,” says Hylton. “One study that was recently done shows that communities with high rates of civic engagement actually responded better to the recession and recovered faster. So overall civic engagement is really important.”
“I think it’s really empowering. These are students that once they feel like they’ve found their voice and they can share that voice,” teacher Janna Moyer says. “I think they’re more willing to talk to their parents and say, ‘Hey, you’re always complaining about this thing but you don’t vote. Mom, go vote, or let’s go together to the city council and do something about this.'”
That could be important for a school like Hug, which recently made national headlines when campus police shot a student who was wielding knives. What often gets overlooked is the fact that almost every student there is eligible for the free and reduced lunch. It’s also mostly Hispanic. Those are two groups that have historically been underserved.
“At first I thought we were going to do this once and be done, but then once I actually did it and once I got involved and saw how easy it is,” says 17-year-old, Manny Fernandez, another student presenter, “I thought I might as well get involved, try to do something, try to see the change that I want to see and actually push for it.”
The students are already setting their sights higher. Many of them plan to head to the Capitol this week to tell lawmakers about other issues that affect them on a day-to-day basis, like bullying.