Middle school teenagers ask the Miami Lakes Council to fight flooding

Jocelyn Hernandez, Gabriella Vega and Maurits Acosta will receive one of the awards they have won for an environmental project on June 9, 2021.  They are students at Miami Lakes Middle School who proposed flood control law to the city council after Tropical Storm Eta spilled parts of West Miami-Dade, including their school auditorium.

Jocelyn Hernandez, Gabriella Vega and Maurits Acosta will receive one of the awards they have won for an environmental project on June 9, 2021. They are students at Miami Lakes Middle School who proposed flood control law to the city council after Tropical Storm Eta spilled parts of West Miami-Dade, including their school auditorium.

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At 8:30 p.m. the night before their final day of class, four Miami Lakes Middle School students were sitting with index cards in hand in an audience at City Hall, preparing to get lawmakers to raise an important issue.

Months earlier, tropical storm Eta soaked the campus so badly that the school’s auditorium was flooded and students who attended classes in person were forced to miss a day. Other schools in the city were closed for two days, and streets and houses in the West Miami-Dade suburb were flooded.

At the ages of 13 and 14, Maurits Acosta, Jocelyn Hernandez, Gabriella Vega and Lucia Bring believed they had found a way to address a growing problem and were in the process of getting local lawmakers to pass their own flood protection laws.

“We are passionate about civic engagement and we wanted to address a problem in this community this year – flooding,” Jocelyn, 14, told the city council during its June 8th session.

The regulation proposed by the students – which aims to reduce flooding by limiting the amount of impenetrable material to residential properties within city limits – was tentatively approved that night by the Miami Lakes City Council.

But the students are not finished yet: they will have to vote a second time in the council on July 13th to convert their proposal into law. When asked during an interview on campus if they would like to continue working through the summer to enforce the law, the students laughed. Although efforts are now coming to a head, the legislation is the product of months in Lisa Deyarza’s law classroom.

“We worked over spring break, winter break, teacher planning days, weekends, birthdays,” said Maurits, 14. “In a way, we spent five or six months preparing.”

Jocelyn interjected: “We started the ‘Bring your child to work’ day so that we can work on this project.” After countless hours of research, the students feel that their community representatives are taking the topic seriously.

MIA_FLOOD0609AUTOTOCTJ Maurits Acosta shows the water level in the auditorium after a storm when Jocelyn Hernandez and Gabriella Vega descend the stairs on June 9, 2021. Miami Lakes Middle School students proposed flood protection law to the city council after Eta took over parts of the tropical storm. flooded the city west of Miami-Dade, including its school auditorium. Charles Trainor Jr. [email protected]

The legislation

As explained in her amendment and supporting memo that Deyarza said the students wrote entirely themselves, the city would regulate building materials in new or renovated single and two-family homes to limit the amount of impervious material used to build driveways. Walkways, patios, porches, and other features in street-facing courtyards.

Studies have shown that increasing the amount of permeable pavement in urban areas significantly reduces the risk of flooding.

Although students will likely revise the change in preparation for the next council hearing, as written, a 50% limit will be placed on material that may be opaque, although exceptions will be made to allow greater coverage if special paving stones are used Can be used. The current upper limit for impervious material is 60%.

At the June 8th session, the first reading of the resolution, the students received some notes from the council, including a proposal to consider the dormitories already under construction and a request to change the language of the change to provide more regulations and incentives as currently as well as the provision of more parking spaces for companies that want to build with the permeable materials.

Most council members, however, said they want to pass the law this summer. Councilor Joshua Dieguez called the proposal “insane”.

“When I first spoke to the students, I was incredibly impressed,” said Councilor Tony Fernandez, who sponsored her article. “I was blown away.”

“You have to want it”

The project began as part of the competitive law school that Deyarza teaches and initially consisted of 12 students. Eventually, four students stayed with the idea – and recorded it well outside of the classroom.

“I’m not forcing anyone, they have to want it,” Deyarza said in an interview.

Deyarza is no stranger to her students being recognized at the city, federal, and even national levels. In 2019, the team she coached took first place nationwide in the We the People competition, a tournament promoting “civic education and responsibility”. Last year, a group of her students, including three involved in the Flood Ordinance, successfully passed the Miami Lakes Safe Place Ordinance, which blocked certain types of businesses from being near schools, including sex shops, gun stores, and liquor stores, Mauritsits said . And in 2021, the student flood project won first place nationwide in a Project Citizen competition.

As part of their research, the students turned to Jayantha Obeysekera, director of the Sea Level Solution Center at Florida International University. When he got her email, Obeysekera said, he assumed they were at least high school if not older.

This is exactly what Deyarza, director of the social science department at Miami Lakes Middle, wanted to create.

“I don’t want them to sound like little children,” she said. “I want you to sound like a citizen. An informed citizen, a concerned citizen. “

Obeysekera said it warms his heart to see students engage in climate change so early on. Ten years ago he could hardly see young people in the room at public lectures about sea level rise.

“It is very gratifying to see middle school students meddling in the problems the community will face in the near future due to climate change,” said Obeysekera. “They are very bright children, if I may call them children.”

The students said they see their project as part of a greater passion for preserving the environment.

“We’re not just trying to reduce the problem of flooding,” said Gabriella. “But also so that it is better for the environment and more environmentally friendly.”

“We should hire you all”

The students, who sat for an interview on their final day of school, said that with the summer break, they are determined to devote even more time to the project.

And beyond change, they seem to know what they want and are determined to get it. At the age of 13, Gabriella said she knew she wanted to become a lawyer one day. Just a year older, Jocelyn said her plan was to earn both a medical degree and a doctorate in law to practice medical law.

Maurits said he hoped to be able to change the law directly at some point. “I feel very inspired when I look at our community councils,” he said. “I would like to do something like that in the future.”

Perhaps the Council is waiting for him with open arms.

“We should hire you all,” Councilor Marilyn Ruano told the students.

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