Kennedy and Reynolds Participating in a National Virtual Prom
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
MAY 19, 2020 – Thanks to a collaboration between a national nonpartisan voter registration organization and MTV, Reynolds and John F. Kennedy high schools will participate in a national virtual prom and will receive $5,000 to spend on civic projects at the school or in the community.
At Kennedy, the connection came through Sara Freeman Church, who teaches U.S. History and serves as the advisor for the school’s Student Government Association.
Church is always on the lookout for ways to engage students, and, when she saw in February that the organization When We All Vote was organizing a national competition in which 20 schools working to register students to vote would each win $5,000 to cover the expenses of their prom.
“The purpose of that was go get people excited,” Church said.
Thinking that participating in the competition would be a great way to have her students work together to register people to vote, she thought, “We might as well give it a shot.”
In her U.S. History classes, Church said, “We talk all the time about how change is made in America.”
One point she makes is that just talking about changing things is not enough. You have to work to support the changes you want to see.
“You can’t complain about the outcome if you don’t participate in the process,” she tells them.
She talks about how crucial the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was to our country moving ahead with Civil Rights. So registering people to vote would be an excellent project.
The contest winners would be determined not just on the total numbers of students registered but also on how the school went about the project, Church said. “It was more about your efforts than your numbers.”
She and students in the Student Government Association went to work organizing their project. They did such things as put up information on voting around the school and let students know where and how they could register.
Of course, not too long into the project, along came Covid-19 and learning at home, so the people at When We Vote and MTV decided to made the switch to a virtual prom with the $5,000 to be used in the future for other projects.
The announcement of that change came with a wonderful bonus.
In late April, Church had found out that of the thousands of schools in the country that had entered the contest, Kennedy was one of the finalists, and, in May, Church and four Kennedy students were invited to join a virtual meeting with the other finalists on the Today show.
To their delight, former First Lady Michelle Obama appeared with co-host Jenna Bush Hager.
The four Kennedy students on the Zoom call were Mirtha Medel-Crispin, Angel Kelly, Sania Kelly, and Jessica Martone. At one point, Medel-Crispin, who is vice president of the Student Government Association, shared the screen with Michelle Obama.
Here’s what the students had to say about their experience:
Mirtha Medel-Crispin: “I was very excited to be on the call. I couldn’t believe my eyes when Mrs. Obama joined it. I’m very thankful to have been chosen for the call.”
Sania Kelly: “I felt that all of our hard work to get students to register paid off! I was super excited when I saw Michelle Obama and I’m so much more motivated to tell people the importance of registering and using your voice!”
Jessica Martone: “I felt so excited to be a part of this moment for our school. It was an amazing experience.”
Here’s what Principal Keisha Gabriel had to say about it all:
“One of JFK’s amazing teachers, Sara Church, is always on the lookout for opportunities to inspire civic engagement and build school culture. The MTV Prom Challenge provided just that opportunity! This challenge encouraged student teams to register to vote so their voices can be heard. As a social studies teacher, this was a great way to relate the curriculum to students’ real world. The icing on the cake was that this contest could earn money for the school to facilitate student activities.”
The virtual prom is scheduled for this Friday, May 22. Everyone is welcome. To get a virtual ticket, go to Prom
To see the video with Michelle Obama, go to Video.