One of the most pressing civic concerns for our youth in Elizabeth was the role of public education in developing an inclusive and equitable community. There was also a lot of concern on the decisions being made to open the schools back up during COVID-19. Youth researched how these issues were being handled in other communities around the United States and the globe, and prepared questions for an upcoming visit by an Elizabeth Board of Education Commissioner. They also had a chance to share in chat rooms and discussions what the program has meant to them personally and how it will affect their lives in the present and future. Charlene Bathelus, the youngest BOE Commissioner ever elected in the City’s history, made a commitment to the Groundwork Elizabeth youth that she will look into having youth voices engaged at the conversation level before decisions are made about things that affect the them.
Our youth came out with a COVID-19 related survey to gauge the community’s thoughts on the current pandemic, an upcoming vaccine, and other issues. It was tweeted and will be on other Social Media platforms this upcoming week. See our survey here.
During COVID-19 decisions had to be made how to educate youth within the schools. Our visit with the Board of Education Commissioner resulted in an ‘aha’ moment. During her visit with the Elizabeth youth, the Commissioner highlighted that teachers, Board of Education members, school administrators, consultants and parents were consulted on what to do about school openings, social distancing, masks, etc. but students themselves were never consulted or even provided a seat at the table. This revelation will hopefully result in changes within the system that will include youth in conversations and decisions about their own education and safety and health within the schools.
Later, the youth prepared to deliver their reflections of the program, including how it has made an impact on them, if and how they will stay civically engaged, and what was their most impactful moment. One youth spoke about her Zoom conversation with the consultant that is helping the City of Elizabeth write their 10-year plan and was very impressed that he listened to her. “Our voices are really being heard. I never thought that could happen”.