August 01, 2006

Youth No Longer on the Sidelines of School Policy Decisions

My name is Chyna Bowen and I am a member of the Chicago Youth Innovation Fund. In Chicago we work as a grant making board, but also as the advisory board to Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of Chicago Public Schools. This fall we will begin some exciting new projects. Aside from distributing over $15,000 in grants to youth led service-learning projects, this year, we are also going to be the facilitators of a student led security training. This summer, as an intern for the Youth Fund’s and the National Service-Learning Partnership in New York I had the opportunity to write an op-ed about the Youth Fund’s work. I would like to share what I’ve done. Below is the copy of the op-ed I wrote discussing the importance of young people being involved in school policy making.

Youth No Longer on the Sidelines of Chicago Public Schools Policy Decisions
The new school year is just around the corner. What topics are up for discussion this year? The same ones that have been for the last fifteen: school violence; African-American and Latino drop-out rates; and inequitable funding. Each year the board performs a complicated juggling act to address all these issues, while not solving any of them. Perhaps the reason the same issues are constantly revisited is because the same strategies have just been repackaged, and students’ perspectives have been undervalued. It is time for adults to realize that if they continue working alone, they will continue to create failing curricula and unsatisfactory school environments. While many adults have yet to appreciate the usefulness of student input, there are those who have.
For the first time in CPS history there is an advisory council to the Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan, called the Youth Innovation Fund. This board of twelve youth members is sponsored nationally by the Kellogg foundation, and locally by Mikva Challenge. As members of this advisory council, we have an outlet to voice our ideas and make positive changes. We knew this past school year that violence was the most pressing issue. The solution we recommended to Duncan was that security guards be trained, in part, by the students themselves. Although the suggestion is unconventional, Duncan was both enthusiastic and supportive of our initiative.
In our meetings with him, we expressed our personal opinions as well as those of many students. The majority of students in CPS feel oppressed and harassed by security guards rather than protected. This training will help subdue the power struggle between the two groups. In addition to the training, there will also be an all-student summit, for students to assist in the development of a new code of discipline. The summit will be held this September. Both the training and the summit are perfect examples of how incorporating young people in school policy-making—a concept formerly dismissed by administrators—is a powerful and essential method of resolving issues. Our input has led to the creation and application of innovative solutions, and as a result, the problems will begin to resolve.
My message is to all. Young people: become engaged and informed of the decisions surrounding and affecting you. Adults and administration: don’t just sit back and listen, but hear our suggestions and take us seriously. Policy makers, city and state officials: make youth voice a priority, and support our efforts. Having youth at the table is no longer an abstract hypothetical. It is a useful application in the progressive movement towards a better school system and society as a whole. Students do not want their suggestions left echoing through the walls senselessly. They want action. High school students are young adults, not children, and our opinions and suggestions must be respected. We are talented, mature, and the leaders of tomorrow.

~ Chyna Bowen, 17, Community leader, active citizen, and senior at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, Chicago




3 comments:

Tiffany Stewart said...

I am so proud of the work that YIF Chicago is doing! The summit is an amazing idea and I believe the results will be outstanding. Keep up the good work!

Tiffany Stewart, Youth Innovation Fund Chicago Alum ’05

Tiffany Stewart said...

I am so proud of the work that YIF Chicago is doing! The summit is an amazing idea and I believe the results will be outstanding. Keep up the good work!

Tiffany Stewart, Youth Innovation Fund Chicago Alum ’05

Tiffany Stewart said...

I am so proud of the work that YIF Chicago is doing! The summit is an amazing idea and I believe the results will be outstanding. Keep up the good work!

Tiffany Stewart, Youth Innovation Fund Chicago Alum ’05