Guest Post – from Alex Mancevski
This blog post is a copy of the speech that 16-year-old high school student Alex Mancevski gave at Austin City Hall on Thursday, January 26th. The speech was given in support of the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, a resolution that supports the belief that all children in Austin have the right to climb trees, hike trails, ride bikes, gaze at the night sky, and so much more. The Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights connects to the larger Cities Connecting Children to Nature initiative, which is working to ensure that all of Austin’s children have access to the outdoors and nature in their neighborhoods.
The Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights was approved at the city’s January 26th City Council meeting.
I’m honored to be here at the Austin City Council.
I’m a proud Hispanic 16-year-old LASA High School student. I spent my childhood with a life code similar to the Outdoor Bill of Rights I hope you’ll support today that will allow every Austin kid to reap the benefits of being active outdoors.
I owe to Austin parks my happiest memories walking greenbelt trails with my family or playing at multiple parks with friends and cousins. These unplugged moments allow us to pause, enjoy our lives and forge meaningful relationships, away from phones and video games.
The hand-eye coordination video games supposedly improve is nothing compared to skipping rocks off the creek surface, catching tadpoles cupping your hands, or challenging yourself to climb the next highest tree.
Nature is the ultimate 3D experience, because your five senses and brain become alive. At the Greenbelt after the rain, you can smell the musty leaves and almost taste the moist soil. You can hear the wind, the birds, your own steps. The trail was also the first time I found out my family was different in a great way. When the Lady Bird Lake trail I visited daily had no visitors but my family, my 4-year-old self learned that usually people don’t hike to feed the ducks when it’s less than 30 degrees Fahrenheit, except us.
Nature was so important to my family that I got transferred to an elementary school nearest to the Barton Creek greenbelt. At Barton Hills Elementary, greenbelt hikes were common and science classes were frequently taught by the creek. Now, I’m lucky to be at LASA High School where everybody takes a course called Planet Earth, and as part of it everybody conducts an environmental project on different Austin creeks and visits McKinney State Park. For most LASA students this is their first visit to McKinney, in spite of it only being a 20-minute drive from LASA.
Nature made me curious to the world around me and brought me daily challenges that help me be the best version of myself.
My love for swimming holes and challenges, led me to breeze through all the City of Austin swimming lessons, then to city Summer League, and last year I was lucky to be fourth at the State UIL Meet.
My curiosity led me to do Science Fair projects since I was in Kindergarten doing outdoor weather measurements. Fast forward a decade and last year I received seven recognitions at regional, state and international science fairs.
I started just as an active kid, who became an activist when I learned my peers, especially my Hispanic community, don’t know about these green areas where you can be active without a gym membership or fancy clothes. I’ve been a Healthy Living exhibitor since 5th grade until now. Thanks to AISD’s School Health Council (SHAC for short)that named me their Ambassador in 2016, I broadened my outreach last year to 2000 students and families who heard my message of being active in nature and the life-long benefits of healthy living. This year, the outlook is even better, since not only SHAC but also Dell Medical School and Dell Children’s Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity, are sponsoring a student-run initiative “Health Through Science”that I’m honored to lead where more than 60 LASA volunteers have been welcomed at 16 low income schools nearby LASA to introduce elementary school kids, mostly minorities, to health and healthy living topics under the science fair curriculum.
Some think kids who look at clouds and chase butterflies are wasting their time instead of learning. But being active helps learning; moreover, the outdoors inspires kids to become athletes, artists, scientists and community leaders.
I want to thank all Council Members, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, and the Cities Connecting Children to Nature initiative because this Bill is the best tool for kids to achieve success and happiness.