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Richmond students serve on Youth Commission to improve schools

on October 22, 2009

A dozen students in the West Contra Costa County Unified School District presented general guidelines at the Oct. 7 Board of Education meeting for a group aimed at improving their schools. They comprise the Youth Commission, a group the board voted into existence last January. Three of the commission members go to high schools in Richmond.

“We can agree on the fact that whatever we come up with in terms of a campaign, we want it to benefit the students,” Valerie Jameson told the board. Jameson is a commissioner who goes to Middle College High School in San Pablo. 

The students reported to the board that they spent the summer drafting bylaws for the commission. They plan to focus on recruitment between now and January. Their goal is to have two student members from each of the ten high schools in the district.

Board member Tony Thurmond came up with the idea for the commission and has helped guide the founding members in the process of creating the group.  He thinks that the students will be able to provide unique insight on how to address school issues.

”We have so many challenges facing us…we ought to be asking our students how to make our students safer, or get more students graduating and going on to college or some form of higher education,” Thurmond said.

The Youth Commission will meet twice a month to discuss issues they want to work on, and then present their ideas at regular Board of Education meetings. Some of the problems they may try to tackle include tension between students and authority figures, school lunches and campus beautification.

Abel Pineda, a 17-year-old senior, has been involved in improving his school experience at Richmond High for the last three years as part of a student group called Youth Together. Pineda said when he heard about the Youth Commission it sounded similar to the work he was already doing, so he applied.

One of the issues Pineda and the commission want to examine is disparities of educational resources between district schools.

To accommodate a shrink in funding for this school year, the West Contra Costa district has laid off employees, increased class sizes and even closed some schools. The budget is down 23 percent from what it was in 2007 –2008. The district also expects to end the year with a deficit, meaning they will spend more than they take in, and rely on savings to fill the gap.

“In Richmond, there are more low income families that live here, so there’s not much to give back to the schools,” Pineda said, referring to the financial support city residents give to schools through property taxes and donations. He said the sports teams at Richmond High don’t have enough equipment, and occasionally classes don’t have the materials they need to carry out assignments. “In schools like Hercules [High], they have a lot more resources,” he said. The city of Hercules, to the north, has about twice the median income of Richmond.

Randolph Del Rosario, a 17-year-old junior, also goes to Richmond High. While he too is concerned about the lack of resources and funding for schools, he has personal reasons for joining the commission. Del Rosario was recruited by one of the group’s adult leaders. “She said it would help me with my speaking skills and how to see other people’s point of view,” he said.

After the Youth Commission presentation, Board of Education members congratulated the students on their work so far and offered to be of help in any way possible in the future. Audrey Miles, board president, advised the students to think beyond their classroom walls when working to solve problems.

“It’s important that school and family and community be bridged,” she said.

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