A pilot project between Bismarck Public Schools, the city of Bismarck and the North Dakota Department of Transportation is tapping into children's minds to find out how they imagine the city might look like in the future.
Driverless buses and flying cars? Both are possibilities.
Bismarck Mayor Mike Seminary, DOT Director Tom Sorel and the school district on Tuesday announced the collaborative pilot project called Vision 2030.
Over the next 10 weeks, about 250 sixth graders at Horizon Middle School will come up with ideas for how the community might look, including transportation, housing and services. Winners will be selected at a competition in April.
Though not all of the students' ideas will be realized, and may not be possible, the overall goal of Vision 2030 is to solicit proposals from the students.
"The things that they can tell us will be very profound," Seminary said. "Getting the input from students who 12 years from now will be in leadership positions is critically important."
Currently, only Horizon students are involved in the project, but the objective is to eventually open it statewide to other cities and schools, according to Jen Einrem, an engineer at the DOT.
"(The project) challenges our paradigms, which is a good thing for us," Sorel said.
Vision 2030 is timely, because the city is preparing to hire a consultant for the city's next long-range transportation plan, which will extend to 2045 or 2050, Seminary said. In addition, city officials are considering another pilot program with the DOT, which would run an autonomous bus from downtown Bismarck to the state Capitol.
Shawn Oban, a Bismarck city commissioner and principal of Highland Acres and Roosevelt elementary schools, lauded the Vision 2030 pilot project, which he said aligns with the reason why he ran for city commission.
"One of the things that I wanted to make sure is that kids and families have a voice in what Bismarck is going to become," Oban told sixth graders on Tuesday. "We don’t want old guys deciding what the city's going to look like; we need to have your input as young people."
Students will come up with ideas, using what is called "project-based learning," and teachers will be the facilitators, supporting students through the inquiry process, according to Maria Neset, a project-based learning sustainability coach for the district.
The youngsters will be able to research what other cities are doing and design presentations, using STEAM — science, technology, the arts and mathematics — skills. The project also allows students to explore careers in such fields.
"It’s a really awesome opportunity for our kids to see how content in the classroom is applied to life, and then an authentic real-world task that adults are asking kids to do," Neset said.
Tabetha Rabenberg, principal at Horizon, said she's excited for the pilot project, which she hopes will engage students in learning, in addition to offering real-world experiences.
"With projects like this, they really remember what they learn," she said.
A website with more information on Vision 2030 is coming soon.