After learning state budget cuts could impact their education, nearly 300 eighth-graders at a Northwest Side school began writing to state officials.
"I can't vote," said Jamie Randall an eighth-grader at Wilson K-8, 2330 W. Glover Road. "But by writing these letters, we finally have a voice."
"It's easy for students to think, 'Who's going to listen to us?'" said Todd Johnson, a student-teacher. "But they learn in social studies that just one person can make a difference."
Gov. Jan Brewer in January approved a budget that cut $133 million from K-12 education in an effort to balance the state's $1.6 billion deficit. School districts such as Amphitheater Public Schools are now tightening their expenditures in anticipation of a potential $330 million hit next year.
Teachers at Wilson held an assembly on Monday to discuss the budget cuts with students.
"We were surprised by how much they already knew," Johnson said. "We'd overheard a lot of students talking about it in the halls, so we wanted to present them with facts so they could understand the impact of the cuts."
Teachers decided that having students craft letters to Brewer and state senators would engage the students in the civic process and also aid them in persuasive writing and composing business letters, part of the eighth-grade curriculum.
Like Randall, many students wrote out of concern for teachers' jobs.
"After being here since kindergarten, I hate to see some of my teachers let go," Randall said.
Principal Adrian Hannah said Wilson's teaching staff remains intact so far, but other positions — such as lunch monitors and crossing guards — have been cut. Now, Hannah and other staff members stand in for the vacant positions a few days a week.
Other cuts also have been relatively minimal: for example, copier paper is in short supply, complicating the way teachers deliver lessons.
But students fear things could get worse. Jake Matthews, Kurt Bailey and Kevin Sherwood reviewed one another's letters in class on Thursday. They all expressed concern that the sports they love to play may not be as accessible in the future.
"We might have to pay extra to play sports," said Matthews, who plays baseball, basketball and football. "It's a bad move because some kids might not be able to afford it."
Though years away from college, the students have their eyes fixed on their future academic careers, too.
"It's possible some classes I want to take in high school could get cut," Bailey said, citing business management, graphic design and sports conditioning as classes offered at his future school, Ironwood High.
Teachers said they were impressed with the amount of effort students put into the letters.
"They have really gone beyond the requirements of the assignment," noted Cathleen Smith, Wilson's language-arts department head. "Kids who are usually not the strongest writers are writing passionately. Their ideas and voice are huge."