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Caribou students give panel earful
March 26, 2005: news_stories
Printed with permission from the Bangor Daily News
CARIBOU - Kids have always said the darnedest things, and Caribou High School students continued that tradition Friday by voicing their concerns about education, including funding, school policies, nutrition, gay rights and young drivers. More than a dozen students addressed the Maine Legislative Youth Advisory Council at a public hearing held at Caribou High School. The council, which speaks for Maine's youth at the legislative level, and three state representatives wanted to hear student concerns to bring them to the attention of the Legislature. Those concerns ran the gamut from pro and con about Maine's laptop program for high school students to driver's license limitations for people under age 18. At times as many as 75 Caribou High School students were at the hearing. Entire classes attended, and, once the shyness ended, they streamed to the microphone.
One student said schools would be better off with expanded use of desktop computers, but the student's friend said he liked the accessibility of laptops because they can be used anywhere, even the cafeteria and study halls.
Another student said schools could save money by using free operating systems and servers instead of brand technology that costs school districts thousands of dollars a year.
"There are some really good ones," he said. "They are free."
Before leaving he gave the council a CD with a copy of one such free server, which allows all kinds of programs for students.
One student argued that Maine's Learning Results initiative is cutting electives from high school curriculums because administrators and teachers are stressing core learning to increase test results. One student also was concerned about testing.
There also were concerns about federal cuts in education, especially those that affect programs such as Reading Recovery and Upward Bound.
"We're looking at problems of youth across the state to bring them to the Legislature," said council Co-chairman David Heidrich of Oxford. "We are the voice of youth in Maine in the Legislature.
"We meet at sessions like this across the state, to improve the lives of young people. We submit an annual report to the Legislature," he said.
"We are learning what is important to you guys," he told the students. "We want to know what you care about."
The council was started in 2000 by the Legislature, but not funded until 2002. The council was one of the first formed in the country, and is the only one in the country that has the power to submit legislation to the Legislature.
The council includes four legislators and 18 youth members. The panel meets three to six times and holds at least two public hearings like the one at Caribou annually. It also holds periodic seminars on leadership, government and the Legislature.
Daniel Robertson brought up gay rights, wondering what such measures do to schools and society in general in Maine. He worried that Maine could become a welcoming place for gays, changing the fabric of his society.
Another student told the council that he was a 3.6 grade point average student but that in the first grade he needed one-on-one help in reading, which he received from the Reading Recovery program. "I wouldn't be where I am now without that program in the school," he told the council.
"We don't have all these answers, but we will look into these questions," said Emily Thornquist, a member of the council from Fort Fairfield High School. "We will do whatever we can."
Also of concern were nutrition programs that stop students from bringing their own food onto school grounds. They said they understood that the programs have changed because of obesity problems in Maine and the nation.
"It's just not fun eating lunch when food is not appetizing," one male student said. "There is little variety and that hurts kids."
"I was not aware of this council before," James Greenfield of Caribou said. "You could end up benefiting people, us young people."
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