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Voices of Youth
Local teens participate in countywide summit
EVERETT Lakewood and Marysville teens were among the 17 Snohomish County middle and high school students who contributed their Voices of Youth to a countywide summit Oct. 25.
The Kids Futures group convened the youth panel so that the teens could answer questions from community leaders and other citizens about schools, crime, substance abuse, transportation and the environment.
I asked a youth council, why is it important for our leaders to listen to youth? said Kate Reardon, who stepped in as one of the events facilitators when her husband, Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, was unable to attend. They said that kids think about what could result, but that adults look at all the problems and the reasons why those things couldnt happen.
Reardon praised the summit for providing a diversity of perspectives. She and fellow facilitator John Becanic, head coach of the Everett Silvertips, soon encountered that variety in viewpoints as students from Lakewood, Marysville, Gold Bar, Kamiak, Lake Stevens, Monroe, Sultan and Mariner middle and high schools offered their opinions on issues they care about.
When asked if current graduation requirements were satisfactory, the students suggested a number of methods for preparing their peers better for the WASL, from elective classes to more specific tips on what to study.
If you follow the statistics, 27.2 percent of students arent passing the reading portion, and 28.4 percent are not passing the written portion, said Gagan Manhas, a 15-year-old at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. We need more preparation. We need to know what well be tested on.
While some students admitted that the WASL made them nervous, especially since its a graduation requirement, others felt significantly less stressed out by it, crediting their teachers with providing them plenty of preparation time already. All the students agreed that schools should not lower their standards regarding the WASL.
Manhas echoed several of his peers when he asserted that not enough is done to ensure their safety in school.
Were supposed to feel respected and valued for what we can offer the community, Manhas said. The U.S. has the most gun-related deaths of any nation in the world. How can we be the greatest nation in the world when this is happening? As long as students are going through this, nothing else matters. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, only love can drive out the hate.
Students requested more open lines of communication with adults, including their teachers, whom the students believed could benefit from using surveys, and their academic counselors, whom the students considered overbooked.
When it came to drug prevention, several students called for greater enforcement, with suggestions ranging from increased patrols of the bathrooms to mandatory drug tests for all students. More than one student criticized police for letting young DUI offenders off with warnings, while others urged their peers to adopt similar no tolerance policies with their own friends.
To promote community safety, the students touted the benefits of neighborhood watch programs, but also wondered why police recruiters werent a greater presence at career day events. One student elaborated at length about advances in surveillance technology that she believed could increase security, by allowing police officers to keep tabs on a number of locations at once.
The students then turned their attention toward the media. While many considered media portrayals of youth to be relatively accurate, they nonetheless objected to what they saw as a lack of acknowledgement of teens positive accomplishments. One Mariner student objected to her schools reputation as a gang school, pointing out the number of scholarship winners in her graduating class and asserting that I feel safe there.
Several students likewise expressed dismay at the degree to which they feel the media tries to sell them on sex, drugs and partying. They cited examples of middle school students theyve seen worrying about their weight, or wearing makeup, which one student described as too much, too soon.
Lakewood Middle Schools Duran Chilton, 14, was the first to address the environment, urging greater awareness.
People need to learn the effects of things as simple as littering, Chilton said. Every day, people dump poisonous chemicals into the water. We need to construct more waste facilities, and more people need to know about these places.
Chiltons peers added that environmental issues should be taught more in school, although a number of them believed that this could be done within existing classes, rather than creating new classes.
Students complimented resources such as youth centers and homeless shelters, while noting the ways in which other resources, such as public libraries and transportation, can fall short of helping them achieve their academic goals and contribute to the community. One student explained that the closest library to her home told her that they couldnt serve her because of where she lived, while another lamented the number of expensive bus connections she needed to take, simply to study and go to her job.
The war in Iraq was an unscheduled topic that was brought up during one students answer. While one student informed the audience of his plans to participate in an upcoming war protest, another defended the war as a means of preventing potential terrorist attacks against Americans. What both sides of the debate seemed to agree on was how disconnected they felt from something that impacts them so much.
So many times, we hear that schools cant afford funding, one student said. But we can afford billions of dollars so that so many soldiers can die.
Were never told why, another student said. Nobody sits down and talks with us about it. Nobody acknowledges it. Its like a background noise, but we want to know.
Manhas weighed in with one of the last quotes of the evening, about the need to increase the high school graduation rate.
If no one invests in our youth, then how will we grow? Manhas said.