By Bridget Schutt, Whitney Grinnage, and Shanea Higgin (DelawareCAN Youth Advocacy Council)
When adults talk about students and our generation it is often said disparagingly that we feel entitled. We are sometimes told how easy we have it, how much more complicated things were “back in the day,” and how we do not possess the same sense of responsibility.
But when it comes to the education system, it seems something has gone wrong with the sense of responsibility that we are told to admire from the older generations.
We hear a lot about our generation being worthy of investment but we continue to see adults reject referendums across the state, with Christina School District as the most recent case of this.
We do not have the ability to vote but we are ultimately the ones who will be impacted when there are teacher layoffs and programs cut at our schools.
If concerns about how districts spend taxpayer funds were so serious, you would think that there would be an outpouring of interest in the dealings of the five to seven-member school boards that manage public funds and impact our quality of education.
Instead, only about 2 percent of eligible voters in Delaware participate in school board elections. In many districts, a couple of hundred votes can get you a five-year term and substantial authority over our schools. This lack of engagement seems like a recipe for dysfunction.
Although students have no voice on Delaware school boards and are largely ignored in discussions about how to serve us best in schools, we decided to do something about it.
As members of the DelawareCAN Youth Advocacy Council (YAC), we’ve been learning about education policy and advocacy over the last year so we can lead efforts to improve our schools.
It has truly been an experience unmatched.
Although we come from different backgrounds and schools (some in district, charter, private and homeschool), we are equally passionate about the future of rigorous and innovative education in our state.
And we are committed to doing our share to create a diverse and equitable school system for the future.
Taking everything we have learned throughout this past year, we decided to do something that has never been done before in Delaware: to host a student-led school board candidate forum.
We decided that it is critical to host a forum for students and community members to hear from candidates and their plans for their districts.
At the forum, we asked questions pertaining to improving proficiency rates, increasing access to school choice, supporting English Language Learners, LGBTQ and a wide range of topics.
We had a room of roughly fifty attendees ranging from parents, teachers, concerned community members and classmates that we invited.
Overall, hosting the forum was a very valuable experience for us. We not only practiced our public speaking and research skills, but I think we gained a lot of respect from the candidates and attendees.
Our future depends on a great education system and we hope this forum provided voters with the information needed to make an intelligent decision.
We need you to engage with our school boards whether through voting in school board elections or attending monthly board meetings. Now more than ever, we need all of you to step up for students.