Kaylen Grass was a self-described introvert last year when she began attending Bob Graham Education Center.
“My first day of school I stuck my face in a book,” said eighth-grader Kaylen, as she stood before the Miami Lakes Council Tuesday night. “I wasn’t looking to talk to anyone, I was looking to mind my own business and to do good in school.”
The 13-year-old was among several students from the school’s Civic Engagement Academy who spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday night’s town council meeting, in hopes of convincing the council to help underwrite their trip to the third annual We the People National Invitational competition in Washington, D.C.
“I’m not an introvert anymore, I don’t read that many books anymore, now I read more [of the] constitution and laws,” said Kaylen, an aspiring attorney, about how the academy has impacted her life. “It’s changed me as a person.”
Through the Civic Engagement Academy, students learned about topics such as civics, government, law, and the constitution.
This year, Kaylen and her classmates placed first at district- and state-level competitions, in which they had to defend the constitution, in how it pertains to current-events issues such as same-sex marriage, immigration and fundamental rights.
Those accomplishments sealed them a spot at the national event, which is sponsored by the Center for Civic Education and will be held April 17-21.
The price tag for the 20 students, teachers, and chaperones to attend the competition is $31,000, which must be raised by March 16. To date, the students have raised a little more than half the money.
“These teens have worked so hard, and we’re doing anything necessary to go to nationals,” said Jackeline Hernandez, a law-studies teacher, via a phone interview. “I’m not going to let a financial hardship hinder an opportunity for our youth to perform in a national competition.”
At the council meeting, Councilman Ceasar Mestre, proposed giving the students $2,000 towards their trip, but later withdrew his motion due to a lack of support. Members of the council were concerned about the allocation of tax dollars and the precedent it may set.
“This creates a slippery slope,” Councilman Tony Lama said. “We’re gonna find ourselves in this situation over and over again.”
Lama donated $250 to the students, and other council members did the same.
Between council members, area businesses and residents, the students raised about $5,000 at the meeting.
“So I think what we wanted to accomplish got accomplished,” said Mestre, who donated $250 to the students. “I think we actually got a little more than we bargained for, as far you guys being able to learn a real lesson on real-life politics.”
Hernandez said that she’s grateful for Mestre’s efforts, and used the meeting as a lesson in her classroom the following day.
“Thanks to his efforts we were able to bring light to our cause and raise double what we expected,” she said.
The Civic Engagement Academy remains committed to reaching their goal and attending the competition, and Kaylen said the meeting survived as motivation.
“We all realized through the years that if we put our minds [to it], we can accomplish anything,” Kaylen said.
Send checks made payable to The Bobcat Law Society to 8181 NW 154th St., Suite #280, Miami Lakes, FL, 33016. Checks can also be dropped off at the Bob Graham Education Center, 15901 NW 79th Ave, Miami Lakes, FL 33016.
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Alternatively, donors can visit www.gofundme.com/bobcatlawsociety.
For more information contact Marilyn Ruano at 305-825-8881.