'A role model': Milford student named to state Kids Governor Cabinet

MILFORD — If Cora Aitkenhead were to have her way, the 22nd day of every month would be set aside for elementary school students throughout the state to go over environmental issues that impact the world.

Talking about the environment already is on Cora’s agenda — the fifth-grade student at Meadowside Elementary School,was recently named to the six-person Cabinet for the Connecticut’s Kid Governor Program for her platform on climate change. Reese Naughton of Southington was elected the 2021 Connecticut’s Kid Governor on her platform of Pandemic Health. The virtual inauguration is Jan. 15.

“I decided to run on environmental issues,” said Cora, who noted that the increase in adverse weather conditions, including wildfires affecting homes and wildlife had helped in her choice of topics. “I made a poster and gave a speech to the class on the day of school election. We all did our presentations and at end of day I was so excited.”

The Kids Governor Program is a civics program for fifth graders created by the Connecticut Democracy Center in 2015. It challenges students to learn about civics and elections by participating in a real election among their peers. The elected Kid Governor and Cabinet serve one year terms in active leadership roles.

Eight students in teacher Geri Mezzoni’s class took on the project. Other topics included body shaming, poverty, helping the homeless, pollution, community cleanup and composting.

“They took initiative, they wrote their own platforms,” Mezzoni said. “They all shared their platform ideas and it is amazing what the kids are passionate about. They encourage each other.”

Cora learned she had been chosen to serve in the Cabinet when Mezzoni called her at home. Meadowside Principal Gail Krois announced her appointment to the entire school the day before Halloween.

“Cora is such a talented and motivated young lady,” Krois said. “From her Kid Governor platform, everyone can tell that she is caring and compassionate not just about others but about her environment as well. She is a role model for other fifth graders — the perfect young lady to be part of the Kid Governor cabinet. Her passion and the passion of others like her make the world a better place for us all.”

Cora’s mother, Carrie Aitkenhead, said the family was proud of Cora’s drive.

“It was her drive, paired up with an amazing teacher, that made it happen,” Carrie Aitkenhead said. “With everything all the teachers are dealing with this year, for her to suggest this to Cora and her classmates was impressive.”

Mezzoni in turn believes Cora’s election brought the school together.

“When we found out it was Cora, the whole class went wild and one student was crying. They just want the best for each other. It is something to be admired,” Mezzoni said.

“We have smaller class sizes with no more than 16 in a classroom. On the playground there is no mixing or mingling with the other classes,” Mezzoni said. “The only way the other two classes could listen to the presentations was to live stream them in. We are all in our own little bubble. The kids adore each other, they care for each other.”

Cora was inspired to put forth a climate change platform on two fronts. One was her father Mike, who is an environmental science teacher. The other was Earth Day.

“I’m super proud. Cora has always been a go-getter,” Mike Aitkenhead said. “I teach AP Environmental Science at Weston High and she chose this platform unbeknownst to me. She had already started making the poster. It was a great idea and I’m thinking of pitching her proposals to our school district and others.”

Earth Day was established for April 22 in 1970 to demonstrate support for environmental protection. More than 193 countries now hold events on that day. Cora wants to take the cause a step further by forming a Green Team of environmentally concerned students in each of the state’s 1,208 elementary schools.

The first part of her three-part plan is called 22 for the Earth and You and would make 22nd day of every month a day to do an environmental activity.

“April 22 is Earth Day, the one day of the year we celebrate the Earth,” she said on her video presentation. “But one day is not enough. As Kid Governor, we would celebrate the Earth the 22nd every month. To do so, the Green Team at each school would organize a topic about the environment for each month. This way it would not be only one school working towards an idea, we can have all elementary school working together.”

Point 2 is Leave a Room, Leave it Off.

“(Here) Green Team members encourage kids to turn lights off in order to reduce energy and pollution that leads to climate change,” Cora said. “One student doing this on their own, might not have a big impact but if every student across Connecticut remembers to turn a light off together it would make a big difference.”

Point 3 is Be the Change.

“Other possible monthly ideas can be composting, recycling, planting gardens, reusable and even writing to your local politicians about environmental issues,” Cora said.

If students worked toward all three points, it would result in a cleaner Connecticut, Cora said.

“There would be less pollution, and it would be a healthier state and environment for all of us,” she said.

Cora’s video has been viewed in classrooms throughout the state.

“Her cousins are in the Hamden School District and were going over government and they played Cora’s video for their class,” Mike Aitkenhead said. “It was cool to know her cousins saw that Cora was representing the state.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354