Grown-ups know best. Yeah, right.
When it comes to electing candidates to school-board seats and entrusting politicians with the sanctity of public education, too often the students themselves are invisible in the debate.
That was the motivating theory behind an effort to bring high-school students into the process of electing District 11 candidates to four-year school-board seats. An upcoming Citizens Project candidates' forum, developed in conjunction with Coronado High School students and faculty, will allow students a chance to press candidates on issues that are near and dear to them.
It's also an opportunity for kids -- and for young-thinking adults -- to test just how out to lunch their school-board candidates may be when it comes to gauging the reality of what's happening in today's classrooms.
Elect a student
With nearly 32,000 students, D-11 is the region's largest school district, and six candidates are vying to fill four open seats on the nine-member school board.
Citizens Project is a local watchdog group organized in 1992 that has sponsored political candidates' forums in Colorado Springs through the decade. Member Greg Borom said the idea for the upcoming D-11 forum was born during a brainstorming session last year about how to get kids more involved in the decision-making process.
John Morris, a history teacher at Coronado, and Lauren Jordan, a Coronado junior, are helping to coordinate the event.
Borom conceded that the forum, by itself, may not have a direct impact on the election. But he and other organizers say it may open new doors for students who have never stepped outside of the curriculum.
The idea has been met with mixed response. Some candidates, like incumbent Bruce Doyle, believe kids should make an effort to know what the school board that governs them is up to.
"The school board will make decisions that effect them (students) personally," Doyle said. "I wouldn't even mind having a kid on school board, from high schools."
Incumbent Shawn Yocum-Alford, however, is more bureaucratic in her response when queried about past school boards' effectiveness in meeting the needs of students.
"You would probably get different answers from different school-board members, just like you'd get different answers from different students that you asked," Yocum-Alford said. "I would imagine it's all in their perspective and what their experience has been in school."
Many students haven't a clue exactly what their school boards do, and most candidates agree that there needs to be some way to facilitate some broader recognition of the board and its activities.
Jordan said the district's growing class sizes have been raised as a major issue. But just as often, kids are more concerned about being able to wear headphones in school than they are debating the intricacies of the teaching of evolution.
Others have questioned the relevance of the district's curriculum. Rosemary Bourgeois, a junior at Palmer High School, cited an irrelevant curriculum when asked to identify her top issues.
"A lot of the curriculum needs to be changed ... to ... something that we'll use," she said.
However, Yocum-Alford wonders what students themselves have done to help solve the problem. "What have they (students) tried in the past to convey that to people in a position to change the curriculum?" she asked.
Education hot spots
During the forum, Coronado students will release the results of a survey designed to identify their hot spots in education. They will also be given the opportunity to tell the candidates what they want to happen in the future of public education. Only written questions will be taken from adults.
Many candidates believe the forum will give students an opportunity to be involved in an aspect of civics that is only read about in social-studies books.
Candidate Delia Armstrong-Busby, the former principal at Mitchell High School, said "The students will get a chance to see politics in action.
"Somebody's going to be elected, and they'll get a chance to see if those people do what they say they're going to do. They'll get a chance to test to see if people follow up."
In addition to Yocum-Alford, Doyle and Armstrong-Busby, other candidates who have signed on to attend the forum include incumbent Lyman Kaiser and Waynette Rand, who is running for the first time.
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