Young Madison Activists Reflect On Resistance

Three years ago, a group of fifth-graders at Madison’s Crestwood Elementary School took on “The Man,” as they like to put it.
The students, dubbed the “Recess Rebels,” tried to restore an outdoor recess that administrators had removed in a restructuring of the school day.
They didn’t win, but they claimed a few victories along the way, such as forcing a districtwide vote by all elementary teachers on the issue.
The students, now eighth-graders at Jefferson Middle School, have given up the fight but not the passion.
Six of them will present a 90-minute workshop Thursday at the National Service Learning Conference in Philadelphia titled “Taking a Stand: Empowering Youth in the Community.” The students wrote a proposal for the workshop and were accepted to present.
About 2,000 educators and 1,000 students are expected to attend the conference, which promotes an educational method in which students identify and address community needs. Former President Clinton is the keynote speaker.
By Doug Erickson, Wisconsin State Journal, March 21, 2006 608-252-6149

At a recent meeting to plan their talk, the students reflected on their experience.
“I learned how to resist authority,” said Nick Allen, 14. “Our principal was kind of against what we were doing and stuff. She was The Man’ — Big Brother and all that. We didn’t listen to her.”
Ben Brasser, 13, more of a diplomat, jumps in, “It wasn’t that we didn’t listen to her, we just continued on even though we were told to stop. In the process, we learned about teamwork and the value of completely believing in yourself.”
In 2003, the Crestwood students started a petition to reclaim a 15-minute outdoor recess that had been replaced by a 10-minute indoor break. They researched the benefits of physical exercise, surveyed school and community members, lobbied the School Board and recorded public service radio announcements.
By the end, about 40 Crestwood students had participated in the effort. However, in a districtwide vote, elementary teachers said they preferred the indoor break. The issue died.
“I think we’ll always be disappointed because we came so close,” said Tessa Dorresteyn, 13.
The students’ story is now a vignette in a new textbook titled, “Civics in Practice: Principles of Government and Economics,” published by Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
In the years since the battle, the students have told their tale at various conferences and created a display at the Dane County Fair. Eight of them earned the highest possible rating at a national civics competition in San Francisco.
“The way they’ve stayed with this has been phenomenal,” said Peter Plane, one of their Crestwood teachers.
Joyce Hemphill, mother of Carlton Hemphill, 14, jokes that her son learned how to resist authority a little too well. But she’s proud that the students have become independent thinkers.
It will not be difficult for them to fill 90 minutes, she said.
“They could easily go on for two hours or more.”