On Thursday, May 27th, Yaxsarie Velazquez, an executive board member of the Plymouth LWV, partnered with the Plymouth Area League of Women Voters DEI Committee to sponsor the second annual Project Rising. Although it has been a challenging year for Plymouth Public HIgh Schools, they fully supported the program. Project Rising was first conceived by Yaxsarie Velazquez after accompanying SC member Vedna Heywood to a women’s caucus her senior year of high school where she connected with community leaders and mentors. The first Project Rising was held in May 2019 and included a luncheon in the Plymouth South HIgh School Cafe. This was put on hold last year due to Covid-19 restrictions. Ms. Velazquez, now entering her junior year at Northeastern University, wanted other students to have the chance to connect and network with community leaders in Plymouth. High School students from both Plymouth North and Plymouth South High Schools attended the event held outside at Plymouth South High School.
Moving around to different tables, engaging in conversation, students had the opportunity to ask questions of and seek advice from six local and state leaders including Massachusetts State Representatives, Mathew Muratore and Kathleen LaNatra, Chairperson of Plymouth Community Preservation Committee and Town Meeting member, William Keohan, Local Criminal Defense Attorney, Max Martucelli, Plymouth Town Selectman, Patrick Flaherty, and Plymouth School Committee member Michelle Badger. Also in attendance were Superintendent of Plymouth Public Schools, Dr. Christopher Campbell, Principal of Plymouth South High School, Patricia Fry, and Principal of Plymouth North High School, Peter Parcellin.
The “speed dating” style conversations allowed for local leaders to provide advice on many topics such as college majors, career choices, and developing leadership qualities. These face-to face meetings allow high school students to see local leaders as people, not just names on a web page or in the newspaper. One local leader was overheard stressing the importance of factual, reliable communication from local leadership especially with regard to public health concerns like Covid-19. College advice on topics such as taking advantage of alumni associations for networking and co-op programs was shared with students thinking about their college choices. One student asked State Representative Mathew Muratore how he handles criticism from the public and he responded with valuable advice about managing social media and staying positive in the face of negativity.
Students were encouraged to seek out older, more experienced members of the community to learn from. The leaders were impressed as students shared their experiences with virtual school and changes in their lives and families that came about due to the pandemic. The local leaders meeting with students said that they gained valuable insight into the students’ lives and world. They were particularly impressed with the many opportunities students have within the Plymouth Schools. Students learned about the inner workings of town and state government and how to affect positive changes in the community. Other topics discussed included the importance of relationships at all levels of leadership and having good intentions as one enters public service.
Impact on Young People and Mentors
Mackenzie Plant, a junior at PSHS said she learned that it is ok if you don’t know what you want to do for your future right now, that there is time to figure it out.
Adam Pakniat, a sophomore at PNHS also said he learned that he doesn’t have to have it all figured out right now, but that he should use his free time to volunteer and take advantage of every opportunity, because you never know what ideas for the future might present themselves.
Ciara Fasullo, a junior at PSHS, said that initially, she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to attend, but she was glad she took advantage of the event having learned how important taking every opportunity is because you might not know what it leads to.
Similarly, Max Martucelli, a public defender with a private practice, said it was a pleasure to talk with students and explain about his interaction with the criminal justice system. The students were all ears. Michelle Badger, school committee member, said she loved the program that allowed face to face interaction. She planned to recruit some students for the School Diversity Committee. William Keohan, a Plymouth graduate himself, said it was a huge eye opener as to where students are in their lives.” It’s a whole new world with technology in the schools”, he commented.
Kathy LaNatra, State Representative for Plymouth said” I love my young constituents, I learned as much from them as they did from me”.
This Project Rising Mentorship Event was a huge success. Everyone was glad they had participated. Yaxsarie Velaquez was onto something in 2019 when she created the program! She intends to offer this program to other school systems. The LWV was honored to partner with her this year and as Project Rising continues and grows, the LWV hopes to assist Ms. Velazquez to expand the mentorship program to other high schools in Massachusetts and beyond. It is a great experience for the encouragement of civic engagement.