Students at the Community Learning Center Reflect on PB

On May 5, 2015, the Friends of the Community Learning Center (CLC) published a blog post on their website capturing CLC student and teacher reactions to the first PB process in Cambridge.

We had fun visiting CLC classrooms in December to explain PB and solicit students' ideas for projects, and more fun returning in March to pass out ballots and "I voted in Participatory Budgeting" stickers to students, some of whom were voting for the first time. 

CLC Students Participate in Citywide Participatory Budgeting Vote

Posted on May 5, 2015 by friendsofclc

A proposal to provide the Community Learning Center with another 20 laptops received the second-highest vote count in a Participatory Budgeting (PB) vote conducted by the City of Cambridge from March 22nd to March 28th, 2015. As announced at a celebratory party on the night of April 7th, the CLC laptop project was in a group of 6 capital improvements to win PB funding for fiscal 2016. The 380 suggestions submitted by the community were whittled down to 20 project proposals through the efforts of more than 40 volunteer Budget Delegates on 4 committees: Culture & Community Facilities; Environment, Public Health, & Public Safety; Parks & Recreation; and Streets & Sidewalks. Torgun Austin, a former CLC teacher and lately a Culture & Community Facilities committee member, explained the role of the CLC laptop proposal in the PB voting process:

“My project was ‘Computers for the Community Learning Center’. The Community Learning Center (CLC) currently teaches 704 adult students, though the number fluctuates. Most students study English as a Second Language while others pursue their GED qualifications. The need for computers is ever growing in the academic program, since much testing in adult education is now computer based, and the need to prepare students for the workplace also requires computer experience.

“To assess the CLC’s computer needs and requirements, I met with Joe Passeri, the Community Learning Center’s computer specialist, to make sure the funds set aside from our budget for the computer ballot proposal would cover the computer type and model number needed at the CLC. The hope is to begin the process of updating and enhancing the CLC’s computer capacity.”

Current teachers added some comments …

Sylvia Greene

“On Monday, March 23rd, the second day of voting on the 20 Participatory Budgeting proposals, City Hall was open from 1 to 8 PM for Cambridge residents 12 and over to come vote for their 5 choices. I decided to take my Basic Reading class over there because it would give them an opportunity to see the displays advertising each of the proposals, and also they have trouble with the computer skills and texting skills that were necessary for voting online. Their math teacher, Karen Fortoul, did a lesson from 5:15 to 6:15 using the prices for each proposal, and we walked over to City Hall after that.

“The PB staff who were at City Hall were very welcoming and enthusiastic. They showed the students around and helped them with the voting process. Several of my students were able to vote on laptops, with help, and several of them voted using the paper ballots. Even for the non-Cambridge residents who couldn’t vote, it was a great lesson on democracy in action.

“I was very impressed with the displays. I was especially moved by the graphics for the Cambridge Peace Garden down on Memorial Drive to commemorate victims of violence.”

Jana Pickard-Richardson

“The Level 4 MWF morning class welcomed two representatives from Cambridge Participatory Budgeting in December, who introduced us to the concept and helped us brainstorm ideas for projects. Several students contributed ideas, including the need for a public restroom in the parks along the Charles. When the ballot was published last month, students read through the choices and discussed them in class, choosing the ones they planned to vote for and explaining their reasons for choosing them. On March 27th, we headed over to City Hall to cast our ballots. The students, most of whom are not U.S. citizens and so had not been able to vote before in this country, were excited to be part of the PB process. We were even more excited to learn that some of our top choices, including laptops for the CLC and bike repair stations, had won!”

Elizabeth Scanland

“It was a little funny with my level 2 class. This class hadn’t been interested in proposing ideas in the initial phase of the process. But when I showed them the ideas that had been chosen and said that we could vote on them–now, at City Hall!–they became interested. And it was fun to watch them seek help from the great voting staff, get their ballots, take the time to make their choices, and put them in the boxes.

“All but one voted, and she felt she didn’t understand enough about the choices to vote. As we were leaving, one of the staff came over to take the class’s picture. They looked happy, and I was happy for them. They had taken part in an amazing opportunity in an amazing city.”

Some students have contributed their own remarks …

Bayyinah Pandolfo’s Level 3 Class

“I feel happy about the Participatory Budget Voting project for the Cambridge Community. It is a very good idea. I liked the process because the projects are good for me and my child. I think that the voting is the best thing because it helps people focus on the projects.”


“I think that the BP voting is a good idea for Cambridge. We need good Wifi networks. Central Square has a lot of people so the public restrooms will help. I am very happy that CLC won the vote for laptops.”


“This process is a good idea for the city of Cambridge. I want the city to make progress to have better places, more money and good housing and healthcare. It will make Cambridge better than before.”


“This is the first time that I participated in this kind of project and it was really interesting. I felt so excited, special, determined and proud of myself to have been involved with this BP voting in a city where I live and where my son is growing up. It is a great idea to involve residents to let us say what we want to build together and how we can spend the tax money for the community. My thought for the next budget is to ask the community their feelings about what they want to make Cambridge safer. I feel so great about voting and am very happy about the winners, especially when I heard that CLC won. I want to thank the city for the opportunity to be a part of this voting and thanks to all the people who took their time to participate for these nice projects. A special thanks goes to CLC and all the teachers who encouraged us.”


“Today I attended a program for Cambridge Participatory Budgeting. I feel that this is an excellent program because every project that won looks nice, for example, computers at the CLC, public toilets for Central Square and healthy trees for a healthy Cambridge. I think that everything is good and everything is getting better. The next time, we need to get many people to join us and work hard together.”


“I feel really happy about this process because the city heard my opinion. It was an exciting opportunity for me because the city listened to me and that made me feel special. What is amazing is that they approved our ideas and I hope next year they take our opinions.”


“The PB voting project for the Cambridge Community is incredible. I felt good that the city is doing great things and engaging the residents. I liked the process because they city listened to people’s thoughts and changed to make it a better place to live and work. I liked some of the winning projects, like CLC laptops and free Wifi spots and tree planting. Next time I hope we get together and do a great job.”


“I feel very good about the PB voting process for the community because I live here. I really like the process and the winning projects – bilingual books, computers for CLC – because it is great progress for this city. This was an amazing project for the city and it will be good for us to do next time.”


Teresa Brown’s Level 5 Class

“During December we discussed the participatory budget process. When we started to discuss the topic, we used information about it on a website, and then discussed our proposals in the group. The next step was two visitors coming from the City Hall, and they tried to explain about the participatory budget by showing charts. After that, based on our suggestions they collected our proposals. The third step of our discussion was information about the ballot, then we analysed and made decisions. Finally, we went to the City Hall for voting. While some of the students voted, I walked around inside the Hall to look at pictures and the architecture of the building. In general this was my first time voting, and I am so happy.”


“On December 4th we started to learn about how to spend $500,000 of the budget decided by Cambridge residents. Then two speakers came to our class on December 5th. One came from the city budgeting office, and the other came from the participatory budget project. They presented some information about Cambridge residents’ ideas. Then they collected some ideas from our class. Next on March 24th we practiced choosing and learned how much each choice would cost. On the following Friday we went to City Hall to vote, and after we finished voting we visited the City Hall offices and saw a Cambridge map.”


“In December three employees came from Cambridge City Hall. During that day, they were talking about the budget. They asked us for our ideas, and afterward to participate. The next step was handing out some paperwork to show us how we could participate, while we all listened. In the meantime, each of them took a turn to speak, from one to another. Last week we went to City Hall, after class, to participate in the Budget Process. Finally my classmates and I went there, voted, and walked around, floor by floor. We had fun, and I’m glad I voted for the things I want to happen right here in Cambridge.”


“We participated in Participatory Budgeting. First, Teresa gave us a lot of information and showed a website in December. We discussed what problems we had. The next step, two visitors from City Hall came to our class and made suggestions. We wrote our ideas, and then they corrected them. Finally, we went to City Hall last Friday to vote after getting information about the choices we had. I think all these processes are very good for me. This is the first time I went to City Hall and voted in the U.S. I am glad I participated in Participatory Budgeting.”


“Last December, our teacher taught us how to find Participatory Budget Process on the website. The first step is that we know what participatory budgeting is. Then, we found the categories, proposals, and maps on the website. After that, two visitors from City Hall presented the process of Participatory Budgeting to the class. We could understand how we would vote on this budget. Last Friday was voting day. First, we needed to confirm our residency in Cambridge. At this point, we could show ID or a letter with our name, or sign a paper to confirm. Next, we got a blue voting paper. We finished this paper by ourselves. Finally, we put this paper in a box. In the end, we walked around City Hall. I liked to do this process, because it helped me to understand how to vote in the USA.”


“In December, 2014, we got information that the City of Cambridge had $500,000 that they wanted to spend on capital projects, so they asked the residents of Cambridge for ideas and suggestions. After that we received two visitors from City Hall who illustrated the proposals for the project, and at this point we made our suggestions. Before the committees in meetings made decisions, they selected worthy suggestions, and the next step was to get people informed. Finally we went last Friday to Cambridge City Hall, and we voted on the Participatory Budget after a long process. We are glad that City Hall gave us this opportunity to be a part of the making of decisions.”


“Last December, we learned about the Participatory Budget Process (PBP). First, Teresa showed us a website which has a map of Cambridge. The map had symbolized pictures for education, health, playgrounds, parks, etc. After seeing a chart, we thought about what places in Cambridge need more money budgeted. Second, two visitors came to our class to explain the project and collect our ideas. I came back home, and as soon as I entered the website I wrote down my ideas. After 3 months, I received an email from City Hall, and they announced that they had 20 suggestions and I could vote for 5 of these. While I read the email, I decided which suggestions were the best 5. Finally, last Friday I went to City Hall to vote for these 5 with my classmates. We got the ballot paper, and then we voted for our 5 suggestions on the ballot. I was so proud of my decisions. It will make this a nicer Cambridge.”


The amount actually allocated ended up being more than $27,000 greater than the $500,000 originally set aside, because the City had decided to fund fully the last of the winning projects; a nicer Cambridge indeed!

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