Joe Refinski’s Project Citizen students at the Rutgers-Newark Upward Bound Program were concerned about the safety of the parks in their community of East Orange, New Jersey. This summer, they presented their proposed solutions to a number of evaluators and public officials, including East Orange Mayor Lester E. Taylor III.
“It is remarkable to see the passion and enthusiasm the students of East Orange have for making our city the best it can be,” said Taylor. “These fresh ideas from our young people are aligned with the city’s Parks Master Plan. Improvements, such as the recently repaired fence at Soverel Park, are currently being implemented and will provide safe places for our community to enjoy the outdoors for generations to come.” Before settling on the issue of park safety, the students studied the branches of government and learned about the responsibilities of each branch for solving specific problems and crafting public policy. After examining the alternatives, the students identified park safety as one of the most important problems in East Orange.
The students linked park safety with public health, citing research that indicates a reluctance of urban residents, particularly women, to use urban parks to improve fitness because of risks to their safety. Students observed that several area parks suffered from litter, damaged fencing, and other problems. They spoke with local residents, interviewed public officials, and documented the parks with photographs and video.
They then identified three possible solutions: (1) heightening fences, (2) improving police surveillance of parks by using motion-sensing cameras, and (3) installing solar-powered lights.
The students created a digital Project Citizen portfolio to explain their research and their proposed solution and developed an action plan to get their policies adopted.
To learn more about Project Citizen or to get your school involved, visit the Project Citizen website.