In 2005, Melanie Miers was shot in a drive by in San Bernardino, CA on her 16th birthday. Melanie’s and my brother’s classmates wanted to be proactive so they started the Youth Organizing Project with Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC). I was about ten when they started empowering themselves trying to find solutions to violence by speaking with elected officials in the community. I was so inspired by their actions. I knew that when I got to high school I wanted to find solutions to problems.
During my freshman year of high school, my twin sister and I sat down and had one to one conversations with different students on campus. After talking with about a 100 students, we documented notes and brought them to our mentor who helped us narrow down our focus to address a student issue.
The following year, we started a club called “Students for Change”. The club focused on learning student advocacy, government, and policy. We attempted to meet with our High School Principal at the time, but he was busy so instead we met with one of the Vice Principals. For the meeting, we created an agenda and wrote down our thoughts to best articulate our questions, take on student issues and present the research we had done on the issues. This VP didn’t take us seriously and said we were being used as puppets when we met with him. We then met with a couple of teachers, school board members and finally with our high school principal. He agreed to allow us to host a community forum and insure that he and other administrators were present.
At the community forum we asked for two things: That the high school graduation requirements align with A-G requirements so that students could decide whether or not to go to a four year college when they graduated, and to provide free SAT prep for students so that not being able to afford this additional resource wouldn’t prevent students from going to a good college. Students, teachers and parents turned out to engage in this dialogue about college matters. We were fortunate enough that our administrators heard one of these requests and allocated money in the school’s budget to have an SAT prep class accessible to students as an elective.
I want to remind readers that I was only fifteen. I restate this because I didn’t have the best public speaking abilities, I didn’t know how to say what I needed to say without writing it down, I didn’t understand how schools worked, and I didn’t know that I could speak up and be heard. Luckily, I was empowered by my mentors and club advisor, but without this experience, I wouldn’t have found a passion for civic engagement.
When I was involved in the Associated Student Government at San Bernardino Valley College, I knew that the activities I was doing with the Students for Change Club is what ASBs should be doing. I saw the role students play in governance at the community college level. I believe what’s needed of the Associated Student Bodies (ASB) at the high school and middle school level should be more than just planning events. We can’t afford to continue to allow students to not be empowered and speak up for things their peers need. We fail students when they aren’t involved in the decision making processes that involve teaching and learning.
Finally, I urge that if you don’t already have a student trustee on your school board or youth advisory council for your city government that you advocate for one. Students need a space to learn the basics of how these institutions are run and operated, so that they can be engaged adults.
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