Students at Pelham Bay school participate in civics competition

Seventh grader Joaquin Gonzalez was crowned the winner of the Soapbox Competition at P.S. 71
Courtesy of Joaquin Gonzalez

A local school recently participated in a civics competition where kids learned about police brutality, poverty, hunger, COVID-19 and other important issues.

On June 11, P.S. 71 at 3040 Roberts Ave. in Pelham Bay, concluded its Project Soapbox competition, where seventh grader Joaquin Gonzalez was crowned the winner.

Gonzalez did his project on COVID-19 and its effect on adolescence. He discovered that people of his generation use technology to their advantage.

“The virus is not affecting us [children] emotionally,” he said.

Civics for All is an New York City Department of Education (DOE) initiative. Part of the initiative is the city’s partnership with nonprofit Mikva Challenge, which includes bringing their Project Soapbox program to the schools for what they call SoapboxNYC.

Project Soapbox is a public speaking competition that calls young people to discuss issues that affect them and their communities. The youth identify an issue they are passionate and create a two-minute speech.

Gonzalez, 13, spoke with the Bronx Times about the program and what he learned. Gonzalez explained that while most people think social distancing is hurting young people, kids are actually doing okay because of their knowledge of technology.

“We were born with cell phones in our hands,” he said. “We have the tools to beat it.”

Unlike adults, kids have a firm grasp on social media and technology, he stressed. Whether it’s Facebook, Zoom, Whatsapp or Snapchat, children are constantly communicating electronically.

According to Gonzalez, kids in impoverished areas that don’t have access to devices or have to share one amongst several people can be resourceful. They can safely play sports or exercise outside or interact with their siblings.

“This actually makes them spend more time with their family,” he said.

Additionally, youths can log onto Zoom and Google Hangouts with school five days a week, which allows people to feel less isolated, Gonzalez said.

Fifth grader Levi Pearson also participated in the competition. Pearson did his speech on how COVID-19 affected poverty and hunger. While he is only a child, he has seen how so many people, especially in the Bronx, struggle financially and with food insecurity.

“People have lost their jobs,” Pearson said. “If we can solve these issues in the world, then we can have better lives.”

In his research he was astonished to find that 40 million people live in poverty. This inspired him to be proactive and he has helped raise over $1,200 for the No Kid Hungry organization via Facebook.

Overall, he enjoyed the Soapbox program and found it quite informative.

“I learned about the importance of [not] bullying, exercise and competitive sports,” he said.

Courtesy of Levi Pearson