Letters: Students argue for childcare, mental health and minimum wage changes

Posted 1/9/20

Eight-grade students at Kickemuit Middle School are working on a project called “Generation Citizen,” where the students identify an area to improve their community and state, and then …

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Letters: Students argue for childcare, mental health and minimum wage changes


Eight-grade students at Kickemuit Middle School are working on a project called “Generation Citizen,” where the students identify an area to improve their community and state, and then advocate for change. Teacher Erica Winter has three classes working on the projenct.

Below are essays outlining their initiatives: Advocating for a child care center / pre-K program at Mt. Hope High School; advocating for a rise in the Rhode Island minimum wage; and advocating for a bill in the General Assembly that would require seventh-grade health classes to include information on mental health issues.

In January, about 60 KMS students will be participating in Civics Day at the Rhode Island State House to present their ideas about how to improve their communities. 


Let’s make high-cost childcare a thing of our past

By Mia Shaw, Jake Leone, Priya Enjeti and James Faulkner

Unfortunately, many parents are aware that low cost and safe childcare in our community can be very hard to find. How would these parents feel if they knew there was a local, safe, and available child care center right in Mt. Hope High School? 

We, a group of eighth-grade students at Kickemuit Middle School, are working to create a low-cost or no-cost child care and Pre-K center in Mt. Hope High School. The goal of the center is to provide high-quality child care to all families and to give high schoolers at the school a chance to learn life skills and help teach younger kids. Our goal is to reach out to parents with 3- and 4-year-olds, soon to be going into kindergarten, in the Bristol-Warren community to provide safe and affordable child care.

According to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, the average family income in Rhode Island is about 79 thousand dollars ($79,043). Also, according to the

Economic Policy Institute, the average cost for childcare for an infant and a four-year-old in Rhode Island is about 25,000 dollars ($24,383). This cost is about 31% of the average family income. Now, imagine being a family with a lower income. The struggle to find child care is difficult because many centers in our community are so pricey.

The center is aimed to be a Pre-K daycare center for toddlers who will be attending kindergarten in the Bristol Warren Regional School District. According to the Urban Child Institute, studies have shown that students who attended Pre-K not only had better test scores but were also more prepared for school, thus having better attendance and fewer behavior issues. Also, these students have developed literacy, language, and math skills quicker than students who did not participate in Pre-K programs. 

Although there are benefits to parents, and the toddlers participating, there are also benefits to students at Mt.Hope High School who choose to participate in the program. The goal is to provide a class at the high school that students can take and then get an opportunity to experience what they had learned in a real environment. This will provide students a chance to work with children and teach them. This will benefit any students who would like to work in the education or child care field and would also like to have children. To sum up, providing this class can give students a chance to find out what they would like to do after high school. The program would also benefit parents with low incomes and the children who join the program.

For more information follow our Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook accounts @kmschildcare.


We need better mental health awareness

By Olivia Kenny and Leila Manchester

Mental health problems are not something that people talk about much, but should they be? Mental health issues among teens have been a large problem in recent years.

We surveyed students around our middle school, and we found that over 75% of students who took the survey know of someone with a mental illness. More than 85% of students would like to learn about mental illness in health class.

Right now, we do not have many lessons on this; it is not in the curriculum, but kids are very interested in learning about it. In addition, the teachers in our school are part of this picture. More than 97% of teachers in our school surveyed said that mental health problems are affecting their students.

There was a bill introduced last session in the General Assembly (H5069) about getting mental health information into the curriculum of 7th-grade health classes. This curriculum could help them to have an understanding of what it can feel like to have a mental illness if they ever develop one, or notice behavioral changes in someone else. Overall, our whole community is dealing with this big problem. As kids in this community, seeing others go through this is very upsetting. Suicide rates are rising in Rhode Island. Think about it, how would you feel if you lost someone in your community or a family member to mental illness?

We need this in our education, so we can raise awareness and get people the help they need.


It’s time to raise the minimum wage in Rhode Island

By Arden Wilkes, Yasmine Akacem, Ian Areia and Thomas Faulkner

The poverty line in Rhode Island is an income of $24,860 a year, yet a single parent working a full-time minimum wage job only makes about $21,840, before any taxes. That isn’t nearly enough for 40% of Rhode Island’s single-parent households to live comfortably.

As students our age in our community are starting to work, we discovered the issue of how low Rhode Island’s minimum wage is. In our classroom at Kickemuit Middle School in Warren, we have decided to advocate for a change in the $10.50 minimum wage for a civics project known as Generation Citizen. 

In early November, one of our classroom groups created and distributed a survey throughout Rhode Island. We wanted to know how the people in our community felt since the minimum wage change would be affecting them. The data from this survey showed that only 12.8% of people from Rhode Island said it would have a negative effect.

Related data proved that 82.6% of people feel as though a minimum wage increase is a good idea, and it would positively affect the community. In this survey, the top two answers to the question asking what the minimum wage should be raised to was $15 and then $12.

Our proposal calls for an immediate raise of the minimum wage to $12 an hour, with an incremental increase to $15 in three years. Hopefully, by 2023, the minimum wage in Rhode Island would be $15, which would make the majority of the community happy. We are hoping to take advantage of already introduced House Bill 5957 and Senate Bill 0508, which talk about similar ideas as ours to work on raising this wage. 

In the past, the minimum wage was set out to be for teenagers working summer jobs trying to get some extra spending money. However, 88% of people working these minimum wage jobs are adults. More than a quarter of people in our community feel as though they don’t have enough income to live comfortably. Of the people working, 55% of them also work full-time and still feel this way.

With the minimum wage that we have now, many households do not make enough money to provide for their families. If they were to work two minimum wage jobs, they may make barely enough to live comfortably, but if they were to work 80-hour weeks, their families would still suffer, especially their children who wouldn’t have a parental figure, which would cause some issues.

It is more cost-efficient to raise the minimum wage, because if there were instances of childhood hunger, lack of childcare and unsafe housing, the government would have to take care of helping with those issues. By raising the minimum wage, the percentage of families who go through those unfortunate issues would be a fraction of the number it is currently. 

Some people may believe that increasing the minimum wage would drastically change prices in merchandise, services, and it would increase unemployment rates. Nearly half of the people we surveyed said that their prices wouldn’t increase and if they did, it would be a small amount of money. Community members have said that even if an increase in the minimum wage didn’t affect you directly, it would be positive for society to be less impoverished.

In the long run, an increase in Rhode Island’s minimum wage from $10.50 to $15 would positively benefit our community in multiple ways.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.