|Tomorrow’s Leaders Make their Case to Today’s Lawmakers
“Our text books are older than the students using them.”
The sad state of textbooks was raised by Upper Darby student Tanveer K. in a meeting with House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton this week at the State Capitol. Tanveer’s fellow youth education advocates in the room nodded in agreement but they had other issues to raise during visits with several Pennsylvania lawmakers.
“I am here today to discuss the inadequate supply and efforts for the mental health of Pennsylvanian [public school] children,” said Faith D., a senior at Springfield High School (Delco), adding that she is worried that her younger siblings “will be given improper care” if they have a mental health crisis.
Another student spoke passionately about changing harsh disciplinary policies. “One misunderstanding or childish act can steer a child off the path to graduating and ultimately setting them up for failure in the long run. If we leave suspensions and expulsions as a last [disciplinary] resort, it will make a difference in so many children’s lives and the paths they will take in life,” said Jacey N.
The meetings in Harrisburg were part of Justice in Education, a young advocates training program launched by Children First last year in response to the powerful youth protests following the murder of George Floyd. The program builds leadership skills and introduces high school students to the political realities of the lawmaking process. Writing a concise and compelling pitch was among the change-making skills they learned, and they gave their pitches to lawmakers in person on Tuesday.
All of the legislative visits were powerful experiences for the students. As young people of color, they were especially inspired to meet with lawmakers of color in high-ranking leadership positions. Sparks of inspiration flew among the young women in the group when they heard from Leader McClinton and Rep. MaryLouise Isaacson about their journeys as women in politics. And in every one of their meetings, advocates and legislators engaged in real dialogue, not just a smile-and-nod exchange.
Students also met with Rep. Mike Zabel and House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris. Collin W., a student at Radnor High School, and Rep. Harris had a hearty exchange over an assumption that support for public education is universal. No position is a “given” in politics and the conversation turned to challenging assumptions and building diverse coalitions to influence elected officials.
Lessons like this – and the many more learned that day – will surely be a part of the upcoming Justice in Education Summit. Student advocates from across the region are invited to a free half-day Saturday session in Philly to learn about justice in education, share what they’re passionate about, and collaborate with fellow advocates on education solutions.
If you know emerging education leaders who are looking for an advocacy community, please send them the registration link: childrenfirstpa.org/2022JusticeSummit. When young advocates have the tools, they are formidable allies in building structural change and a better future for them and generations to come.