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Central Falls High School students engage in first RI participatory budgeting process



Central Falls High School is a school with community-driven students, and that is the message we want to send to the state of Rhode Island. Warriors for Change is run by students in control of a $10,000 budget to make school improvements decided on by the student body. With the support of Mayor Diossa, Central Falls City Council, the Central Falls School District and the Secretary of State, the entire student body will decide what projects are funded. We are thankful for this opportunity and look forward to seeing the projects completed, and doing even more,” write the students of Warriors for Change in a statement.

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. The process has been adopted by more than 5,000 cities worldwide. Central Falls High School is the first school in the state to engage students in PB, with $10,000 allocated by Mayor James Diossa and the School District. The process, known as Warriors for Change, was implemented through a semester-long class which was co-taught by Central Falls City Councilmember Jessica Vega, and Pam Jennings, who has facilitated PB processes in NYC, Boston, Cambridge, and Vallejo, CA.

Councilmember Jessica Vega and Pam Jennings

In the class, students conducted a needs assessment of the school, they worked with experts to develop proposals and budgets for priority projects and they developed campaign materials. With the assistance of the office of Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, students had access to real election equipment, and put the final twelve priority projects on a ballot in Spanish, Portuguese and English. This is believed to be the first tri-lingual ballot in Rhode Island, and the translations were done by students.

Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea addresses the students

Over the course on the day, various classes of students went to the gym to vote on their top three picks for how to spend the $10,000. Projects ranged from bathroom improvements, to new equipment for gym classes, to new computers for the library.

School Librarian Debbie Fisher does some campaigning for her favored issue

Through the class, the students had many difficult discussions about the budget shortfalls in their district. They often advocated for smaller class sizes and elective classes, projects which fall outside of the scope of the $10,000 budget allocation. Overall, the process educates them about how local government and budgeting work, and how to advocate for change in their community, and it empowers them with tools to become civically engaged for the rest of their lives. Warriors for Change gives youth real power over real money to make real changes in their school.

“The work being done in the Warriors for Change class is truly important for our students and our community,” wrote Mayor Diossa in a statement. “The students are engaged and are learning about important topics that impact our world today. These students are being presented with issues that are being discussed in every city hall and state house across the country. The real world scenarios they work through are developing critical problem solving skills that will help them throughout their life.”

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“I’m proud of the work the students of Warriors of Change have done this past semester,” said Councilmember Vega. “We’ve had challenging conversations about social injustice and equity, engaged in activities that can lead to transferable and practical skills, and made democracy tangible by fostering a space where they can create change.”

The school had a visit from Secretary Gorbea, who spoke to the students and gave out awards for their efforts.

“I go all across the state, but this is one of the most amazing examples of what you’ll be doing as voters,” said Gorbea. “Which is, there’s a budget, you have x amount of dollars, how should the community divide it up? If you feel there are parts of your community that aren’t getting resources, it’s up to you to participate, raise your hand high and say, ‘No, this is not how I want it.'”

Mayor Diossa’s Chief of Staff Joshua Giraldo and Central Falls City Council President Maria Rivera
Jessica Vega speaks to her class
Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea
Councilmember Jessica Vega and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea

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