When Schenectady High School students have a chance to advise the City Council and city officials – beginning in a formal way as soon as next month – what issues will they raise?
Issues with parks? The lack of job opportunities? A need for more youth activities?
Maybe, but what issues do all citizens care about?
“One of the things is potholes within Schenectady,” said Ricarlo-Luis Grevely, a Schenectady High School senior and leader in the school's Teen Advocacy Group – aka TAG – a student group aiming to force change at school and in the broader community. Also, maybe taxes are too high, he said.
Elizabeth Tchako, a high school junior, said she wants to raise questions about public transportation in the city. Xiaya Green, also a junior, wants to know where the electric bikes went.
As soon as this month, a group of 12 Schenectady students, likely including some from TAG, will be selected to serve on Schenectady's first City Council Youth Advisory Board, Schenectady City Council President Ed Kosiur said.
“We at the table are making many financial commitments to youth in the city without them at the table,” Kosiur said. “How can we be making decisions as adults without sitting down and listening to the students themselves?”
Working with Phil Weinman and Molly Schaefer, student engagement supervisors at the high school, Kosiur plans to take applications for 12 student positions on the new advisory board, three students from each grade level at the high school. As seniors cycle off the board, a new group of freshmen will join.
The board, joined by a pair of adult community representatives and a city council member, will meet regularly to discuss city issues impacting youth. Kosiur said he hopes the board can sit for its first meeting sometime in December.
In late-February or early-March, Kosiur said, the city also plans to host a job shadowing day for about 50 high school students, giving the students a chance to observe work at city hall, with police and fire crews and the other positions that make city government operate.
The city's new youth council, though, is not the only initiative TAG students have going on these days. The students are at the center of an emerging relationship with similar community-minded students from Mohonasen and Niskayuna school districts. A group of students from the three districts met last year at Union College, spending a day discussing and dissecting the differences between the districts and the stereotypes of those districts that often prevail.
The students are continuing that work, looking to bring other Schenectady County districts into the mix and organizing a multi-district event to bring students from the area together. TAG teens recently presented to the school board and took a day to teach their teachers.
This past week, a group of the TAG students ran a standing-room-only work session at the district's annual teacher training conference in Albany. They started the session by asking some of the teachers – only those wearing glasses – to take off their shoes.
Some of the teachers complied while others did not. As the teachers and student leaders debriefed, the teachers pondered what the students were trying to demonstrate.
“All day long we are asking students to do things and we don't explain,” one teacher said.
Another teacher said it was meant to show how some students may feel targeted. “Who's in power,” a third teacher blurted out. As the students asked the teachers how they felt, one said they felt irritated.
“Yeah, I get that a lot,” high school junior Xiaya Green said as she roamed between the tables full with teachers.
The students pointed out that at the root they and the teachers aren't that much different.
“That's the same thing that happens in the classroom: kids complain, but you are still expected to comply,” Elizabeth Tchako said.