Local high school students received some atypical extra credit on Wednesday morning when they presented to the Gainesville mayor.
Four students from Gainesville High School presented two projects to Mayor Lauren Poe on how to bridge the gap between the east and the west sides of Gainesville.
Joshua Forgione, macroeconomics teacher at GHS, chose four out of about 45 students to present their project in front of Poe.
The goal of the project was to apply information the class was learning in a real-world attempt to help those around the city, while researching the challenges in the areas of job growth, infrastructure, education and general health and safety, Forgione said.
“The reason I chose these specific presentations was a combination of the presenters having confidence in what would probably be an intimidating situation for some and ideas that were both diverse and somewhat practical,” he said.
The students presented their projects to their class in March, but Forgione went a step further in contacting Poe.
“I had been praying about east Gainesville, and I felt strongly that I was given a response that I was supposed to take some next steps in doing something about it, including contacting the mayor,” Forgione said.
Bella Wilson and Matt Mann, who both just graduated from GHS and will attend Santa Fe College this fall, presented their project to Poe first. Their presentation regarded the lack of grocery stores in east Gainesville in comparison to the west side.
Through their research, the students found diabetes and obesity disproportionately affect those living in poverty and suggested a nutritional program for underprivileged communities, such as a K-12 program.
“It should be an in-class curriculum,” Mann said. “It could be part of the [physical education] program, because I know when I was in middle school, I had to learn about square dancing. I don't think that that's as relevant or as necessary as making an educational health program.”
The second team of presenters, Keelyn Fife and Alissa Humphrey, incoming seniors at GHS, demonstrated an idea for a medical center in east Gainesville, along with a new shopping plaza.
“There is a lot of success at Butler Plaza on the west side,” Fife said. “When they started bringing this in, it not only helped the entire west-side economy, but it also made it more of a place to visit.”
Fife said their first policy would be to bring businesses that provide entry-level jobs and a living wage to the east side.
Poe gave the students feedback and compared their concerns to the concerns of the City Commission regarding east-side business.
He said he will connect the students with the city commissioners and other local agencies in order to further progress their ideas.
“From a city perspective, we're working on some city policy issues on how to bring more food security, especially to our low-income areas, and we're not pretending to know all the answers,” Poe said.