Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ohio Youth Voices Meets Frances Strickland

Ohio Youth Voices, an organizing project bringing high school students together to discuss how public policy relates to their lives, met with Ohio First Lady Frances Strickland last Thursday. The photo above was taken at the end of the meeting, with the First Lady in the center.

Ohio Youth Voices for Economic Justice is the brainchild of Michael Charney, an activist and retired Cleveland teacher. Ohio Fair Schools Campaign, an organization I do contract work for, is collaborating on the project. You can read my previous post on the effort.

According to the press release:

    Mrs. Strickland said that she was impressed by how clear and articulate the
    students were about their needs. She encouraged students to talk to
    legislators, and to make sure they know what the needs are. “Even the
    legislators who support you need to hear from you. Your personal stories
    will help them understand the real-life impacts of their decisions.”

Michael Charney wrote a narrative of the event. Some excerpts:
    They came from all across Ohio to the 31st floor of the Riffe Office Building. They came from small rural towns and from Appalachian counties and from the urban centers of Cleveland and Columbus. On Thursday March 15th these 30 high school students had a single purpose: To tell their stories as they communicated their Youth Agenda to the First Lady of Ohio.

    They wore the professional dress of the button down suit, the blue jeans of teenagers, and the Junior ROTC uniform of the high school cadet. One student came with her mother and grandmother as they squeezed in a college visit in the big city. Another student carried her 8-month old child. They all spoke candidly about their schools, their lives, and what the state of Ohio should do to increase their educational and economic success.
* * *
    Jonathan Lykes, a junior from Shaw High School in East Cleveland, moderated the discussion and explained how all students needed a full curriculum with art, music, technology and AP classes. Mason from Federal Hocking narrated how internships at his school have connected students with real life classes. Julian from Eastmoor Academy in Columbus described how a friend of his dropped out of school because he did not get the needed personal attention that smaller classes, peer counseling, and individual tutoring would provide. Casjmir from East High in Columbus, a teen mother, told how a special program at her school provided a counselor that helped her get what she needed for her baby but the difficulties of staying in school for her and her fellow teen mothers remain, especially without day care.

    Zufan from Eastmoor pointed out that too many schools don't have a counselor that can guide them through the college application and research process because they spend much or their time scheduling classes. Maggie from Warren High School in Washington County spoke about how the cost of college was out of range for middle class families. Diamond, from West High in Columbus, decked out in her JROTC uniform, forcefully and eloquently described how military recruiters are omnipresent at her school while college recruiters seldom appear. Na'Tasha from Shaw in East Cleveland captured the day with her frequent references to the "yearnings" of the students for real educational opportunities and for youth centers to provide a positive alternative to prevent youth violence and early pregnancy.

    Megan and April from Plymouth summarized the Youth Agenda by detailing the way in which school funding works in their small town where a reliance on property taxes has lead to teacher layoffs, demoralized students, and overburdened property owner reluctant to pass school levies.

    The First Lady listened intently and congratulated all the young people for their real life stories. Often when she visited schools the officials only wanted her to see all the positives and the students here were able to capture a more understandable reality. She also connected the recent State of the State speech by Governor Strickland and the Youth Agenda where there is so much in common.

    She then canceled her next meeting to ask the students many questions. Part of the focus was on the level of violence in their schools as well as some of her suggestions to continue the Youth Agenda and ways to tell their stories to the lawmakers who now will take up the state budget.

NOTE: Post was revised to correct the misspelling of Mrs. Strickland's first name.