2008 Youth Scholar - Rachelle Harrison, Hillcrest High School, South Jordan, UT
"Rachelle recognized the importance of equal access to education in the sixth grade. She was amazingly insightful and effective in her organizing efforts – her leadership demonstrates a strong commitment to being involved and improving conditions for others in the future."
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Rachelle Harrison, the second scholarship winner from Utah, hails from South Jordan, UT. While only in the sixth grade, she realized there was a problem with a school busing policy that prevented students at her school from having equal access to educational programs. She gathered data and petitioned the school board to provide transportation for students who would have otherwise been excluded. She continued working on this issue throughout middle school and high school. Her efforts led to the school adopting a more inclusive busing system. The ACLU of Utah also recognized Rachelle in their local scholarship competition.
Rachelle's Scholarship Essay
I have consistently demonstrated my interest in and commitment to civil liberties activism over the past six years by ensuring equal access to school academic programs for all members of my community. I did this by successfully petitioning my district school board to provide busing for students in an special-needs learning program. I have also demonstrated activism as a member of and leader in the South Jordan Youth Council.
As an elementary student, I participated in my school district's Accelerated Learning Program for Students (ALPS). Near the end of my sixth grade year, many members of my class wanted to continue their accelerated education, however, the only middle school that offered this program was located several miles away on the east side of the valley. Although my parents were able to transport me to and from the middle school, I knew that without help, it would be impossible for most west-side students to continue in the program.
After talking to several of my teachers, I discovered that my school district was failing to carry out its own policy which stated that it would work to fairly meet the needs of all students, including those with special needs. I determined that being in an accelerated learning program qualified as a special need because the students were tested for the program and were given curriculum they would not have had in a regular elementary classroom. The students who compromised my class also had significantly varying socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, another key factor in the situation.
After validating this need, I acted. I first surveyed my elementary school class to determine how many students wanted to attend the middle school program and whether a busing system would affect their decision. This survey showed that many students were interested in attending the accelerated middle school but transportation was a inhibiting factor for the majority of them because they lived an average of 8-10 miles from the middle school. I then had the students of my class sign a petition which I sent to the Jordan District school board along with a letter stating the need of these students and explaining how they would be benefitted by a busing system. I explicitly stated that district policy required action to provide services that addressed the needs to all students with special circumstances or needs, including the students in the accelerated learning program. A few months later, I was informed that the district had agreed to fund two buses – one for the east side of the valley and another for the west side – that would each stop at two different ALPS elementary schools and transport students to and from the middle school each day.
Although the district was now providing busing for middle school students, the issue resurfaced three years later as I prepared to entered high school. At the end of my ninth grade year, it was clear that many of my classmates would not be able to continue on to the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Hillcrest High School without transportation assistance from the school district. I again gathered a petition and wrote a letter to the school board. I also found out when the next school board meeting was, invited my peers and parents to attend, and asked to be given time to speak. At the meeting, I personally addressed the school board and district staff in explaining the need of the varied students in this advanced program and for busing from the elementary schools to the high school. Once again, the district agreed to give funds to support this secondary busing system as a direct result of my activism.
Together these two busing systems have enabled many students to pursue advanced learning experiences that would otherwise not have been possible. The busing system to the middle school, which initially consisted of two buses, now consists of four buses. The program has developed and expanded dramatically from the 28 students it originally served to over 126 students currently. The high school busing system has likewise increased the number of students participating in the IB program. Both programs expect to see future expansion as more students take advantage of the opportunity now open to them.
Through these experiences, I have learned that anyone, no matter their age, can make a difference for the better in the world. Although at times one single individual may seem insignificant, they can indeed make a great impact on the lives of others. Through these experiences I gained the desire to learn of additional needs in my community and serve to help meet those needs. I found an opportunity to do this by joining the South Jordan Youth Council my sophomore year and have continued to play an active role on this council by taking leadership roles within this council during my junior and senior years. This council has taught me more about the processes of government, has informed me about issues in my community, and has helped me serve all members of my community. Through the many hours of service that we offer to the elderly, children, those with limited incomes, and other groups, I have strengthened my belief that it is important to defend the rights and meet the needs of all people. I have also learned that an individual or a group of individuals can make a real difference in the world. As I grow into adulthood, I plan to continue this active role in my community by serving in government and supporting and working towards the needs of others.