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Congolese SPS students participate in Leadership Workshop

Updated: Jun 5, 2022

At a special city council meeting Dec. 6, eight members of a mock city council discussed youth homelessness, raising the minimum wage and an annual reconciliation event to support the Equal Justice Initiative in Springfield.

But instead of meeting at City Hall, the council members met at Timmons Hall.

“The International Institute of Southwest Missouri site manager and youth coordinator met with me and shared the need of a leadership workshop,” said Christine Peoples, Timmons Hall coordinator. “I’m intentional on doing educational programs and activities that are current and relevant to our youth, so I was happy to help. All they had to do was bring the Congolese students.”

Eight high school students participated in a mock city council activity, where they learned more about civic engagement, the function of local government and how to think critically to solve local problems as elected officials. Three community leaders presented topics to the mock government body, with point and counterpoint arguments made in rapid fire to the assembled students.

The SPS learners are new Springfield residents -- they are Congolese refugees who have arrived in the past five years, said Rebekah Thomas, site manager for the International Institute Southwest Missouri Branch.

“A lot of our refugees have interrupted education and have had limited exposure to certain concepts,” said Thomas. “We’re learning that for our young people, a lot of education is culture based, so activities like this help bridge the gap so that they’re better able to understand American culture and all it entails.”

Central High School sophomore Riziki Barume is one of nearly 350 refugees in Springfield Public Schools. She found the Leadership Workshop interesting in all its facets, but one specific concept came alive to her during the workshop -- taxes.

“I go to the store and it’ll say it’s one dollar, and then when I get to the register, it says one dollar and 40 cents,” said Riziki. “Part of the activity was finding out how expensive it is to make sure a city keeps water clean. So those extra cents go somewhere, they help provide clean water, so we all pay for it.”

Riziki was a member of a group led by an intern from Drury University. Three Drury Summit Leadership interns selected their project on the basis of working with students at the Leadership Workshop, writing papers on social issues, leading discussions and encouraging the Congolese teens to think creatively to solve problems impacting their neighbors.

“They brought up a lot of things that I wasn’t expecting them to bring up,” said Jessica Archuleta-Trujillo, Drury Summit intern. “They took a personal standpoint on issues that were different than mine, because they’ve seen things that I haven’t. That dialogue matters.”

At the end of the Leadership Workshop, the students were able to create a story box. The creative container serves as an exhibit conversation piece, while also holding the contents of all the observations and details collected at the leadership workshop. It’s a signature project of Timmons Hall, Peoples says.

“We want these students to be empowered to share what they learned with their friends, their family and keep the conversation going,” said Peoples. “This is only the beginning.”

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