Speak Up Speak Out Returns to the Capitol

Heather Vaughn, Ed.S.

After being online or hybrid for nearly two years, the Speak Up Speak Out State Civics Fair returned to the Capitol. I felt the infectious energy of nearly 100 competing middle and high school students as soon as they arrived with their nervous excitement and hopes of bettering our future. Remarkably passionate and committed students from across Texas were brave and bold as they shared their personal stories and action plans to create community change. Giving and kindhearted judges from the state legislature, higher education, K12 education, non-profit, and tech fields volunteered their time, talent, and resources to listen, rate, and celebrate the students’ civic action projects.

Coretta Scott King once said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” I believe there are many communities destined for greatness in our state with so many important and innovative ideas presented by these young people. I am already more encouraged about what’s to come after witnessing the amazing work our first-place teams are accomplishing in their communities. Both of these teams will receive $1,000 for their school to continue their project’s action plan and to reinvest into their school’s Speak Up Speak Out program.

In the middle school division, Urban Roots and Greens is a project speared by students from San Antonio Preparatory School. Upon learning that 35% of families in their community face food insecurity, these students hope to improve food deserts and insecurities in San Antonio. They started a school garden and are partnering with local vendors and community leaders to distribute the harvest to elderly, homeless, and disabled. Additionally, they are running a 24-hour, free food pantry that is stocked by monthly food drives they conduct at school. These incredibly philanthropic students are not only serving their community’s needs, they are also educating others on food disparities and wellness at community events.

In the high school division, On the Same Page is a project led by a team of enthusiastic students from Harmony School of Innovation- Fort Worth. These students are particularly concerned with the low literacy rates at their sister elementary school, due in part to the pandemic. They are actively organizing a book drive that attains books tailored to their elementary peers’ reading levels and coordinating the “reading room,” a school wide afterschool program that provides elementary students with a free book fair. Their ultimate goal is to make reading fun and accessible to all by creating connections between the two schools as the dedicated high school students volunteer their time to improve literacy rates through access to free books.

This event is one of the great joys I have the pleasure of leading, but I could not do this alone. From counting medals to coordinating catering and volunteers, our staff and student interns work tirelessly to ensure the event is a seamless celebration of civic imagination. My sincerest gratitude to interns, Tanvi Oswal, Arianne Ohman, and Anh Vu, for making this event fantastic. There are countless hours spent facilitating the curriculum and practicing presentations that are driven by our educators in the field, and for that, I thank you. We see you, we know your students carry their agency and courage with pride because of you. We eagerly anticipate seeing you back at the Capitol next year!


Review all the 2022 winners.