Kids' Quill: Teens as Activists

October 1, 2000
There Ought to Be a Law!

By Andrea Kim

When I walk into my geometry class, I see rowdy kids all over the place, not in their seats, not listening to the teacher, not ready to learn geometry. The class is just too over crowded and the teacher cannot handle so many students.

That’s why my classmates and I have been working hard to make our classes less crowded. This year I took a Government Lab class, and our first project was to form a state proposition. A proposition is an idea that is presented to the people of the state. If the majority of the people vote on it, it becomes a law.

We decided to focus on providing equal privileges and advantages for students in the classroom. To do that, we proposed limiting the student/teacher ratio to 20:1, at least in core academic subjects. With more teachers, students would get individualized attention and perform better in class and on standardized tests.

But it takes more than on person or even a group to change state law.

In order to get the initiative written by the legislative counsel (the state body that reviews new propositions), we needed to write a letter and get it signed by 25 registered voters. This took about a week. First we asked teachers at our school. I was surprised to see the reaction we got – they practically ignored us. Most showed no interest in the idea and gave no support. They just wanted to get on with their class agenda.

But we managed to find enough teachers to sign, and our teacher submitted the initiative to the attorney general along with the $200 fee. They took our proposal and summarized it in legal language for the legislative counsel. The proposition was now written.

Next it had to be okayed and analyzed during a process called fiscal analysis. They estimated that it would cost from $700 million to $1 billion to fund this program.

But before our initiative becomes an official proposition, we will have to get 600,000 signatures of individuals who agree with our initiative. We need to raise money and get sponsors to hire professional signature gathers.

It took us a lot of meetings, research, phone calls, and writing letters and proposals to get where we are now. We feel grateful we have a chance to be heard, as long as we work hard and never give up. We never thought adults would actually take us seriously, but they did and that motivated us. Maybe one day we’ll get the signatures and the proposition will make the ballot.

© La Youth, Los Angeles, CA

Changing Schools Through Organizing

By Frederick Ginyard

I joined Youth United for Change (YUC) in my school because I saw it as a chance to have problems head and to have something done about them.

We have a process by which we work toward change, called an organizing process. We figure out problems and issues, negotiate, and plan our big action.

The first step in the process is figuring out the problems and turning them into issues. We do that by putting together a survey and distributing it to the entire student body. This year’s survey at my school, Edison High School, was focused on textbooks, overcrowding, and library access. The topics that get the most response become our issues.

The second step is research. We set up meeting with different school district officials and others to try to figure out whether they agree or disagree on the issues the YUC team has come up with.

The next step is negotiating. We go into a meeting and tell officials our demands. We hear their responses and meet somewhere in the middle. Most of the time we get what we want.

The fourth step is action. We bring out plans for change to the public, which includes school district officials, the media, and, most of all, the students. By making it public, it is easier to hold public officials accountable for what they promise.

At our most recent action at Edison High School last March, we demanded that our ventilation system be fixed, that students have textbooks to take home for all their major subjects, and that we be able to work with the principal to deal with school overcrowding.

There has since been a massive distribution of textbooks, and we were told the ventilation system would be fixed. Our efforts made me feel proud to know that we really accomplished something.

© Public School Notebook, Philadelphia, PA

Teens Get Parents, Teachers Talking About Sex

By Hanna Ingber

We didn’t get what we asked for, but we still won.

Our request? To get school officials to make condoms available at Goshen High School in Goshen, N.Y. But we did get everyone talking – and that was no small victory.

Goshen is a small conservative town filled with Victorian houses, friendly neighbors, and pretty, preppy students. Even though it’s only 60 miles north of New York City, many see the town as untouched by the troubles that plague city schools.

So we, a small group of high school students, awakened our community to the fact that, despite many lectures on abstinence, Goshen High School teens are having sex. And worse, they’re having unprotected sex.

Our group, known as the Goshen High School Condom Availability Committee, started working on this issue in fall 1998. We wanted condoms available either through dispenser in the bathrooms or in the nurse’s office. We planned to present our proposal to the school board and leave it at that. We never expected to stir up trouble.

From the beginning, school officials disliked the idea. They were afraid they would be seen as saying teen sex is OK, that parents would get angry, and that the community would become divided over this controversial issue.

To us, it felt like they gave us the runaround. They gave us assignments that ranged from seeking the support of ineffective district-wide advisory boards, to gathering more and more statistics.

It was not until January 1999, a year and a half later, after countless meetings with advisory boards and administrators, that our committee finally decided to take things into our own hands. Since we had completed every task they had thrown at us and followed all their rules, we decided it was time to fend for ourselves.

We organized a public meeting. We realized that even though we might never get condoms in our schools, our town needed to talk about the issue. We wanted the chance to tell our school board and our parents how serious the issue of unprotected sex is.

The forum was organized completely by students, except for the help of one teacher. We reserved auditorium space, lined up speakers for our panel, researched every part of the issue, and publicized our event without the guidance or support of the school. We got media coverage. We worked hard.

The community’s initial response had been mostly negative and hostile. The forum changed that.

Somehow, the meeting did not turn into the heated argument that most feared. Instead, it was a true exchange of ideas and opinions. Although the 200 people at the meeting were split on whether condoms were the best answer, after three hours of talking they found some common ground.

People started talking about how to deal with students having unprotected sex. The exchange of ideas was the best thing to come out of our efforts. Every person who read the newspapers, listened to the radio, and attended the forum was thinking and talking about the problems of teen pregnancy and STDs.

We may not have gotten condoms at Goshen High School, but we got our community to really think about the issue. And that, in itself is a victory.

© Sex, Etc., Piscataway, NJ

Kim, Andrea. "There Ought to Be a Law!" Youth Today, October 2000, p. 35.

Ginyard, Frederick. "Changing Schools Through Organizing." Youth Today, October 2000, p. 35.

Ingber, Hanna. "Teens Get Parents, Teachers Talking About Sex." Youth Today, October 2000, p. 35.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.