On a cold and rainy Wednesday in January, two Youth Leadership Council Members representing the Skyway Youth Network Collaborative (SYNC) made their way to the State Capitol and took part in something they never imagined…Advocacy Day.
Jordan, a senior from Renton High School, and Fernando, a freshman at Kennedy Catholic High School had the opportunity of a lifetime and visited Olympia. They spoke about opportunities that would have a lifelong impact on students. From improving access to dual-credit courses to counseling services and ensuring equitable support for students with disabilities; these young men were passionate yet excited to advocate for themselves and peers.
While missing a day of school, Jordan and Fernando had their day filled up with meetings, long walks and open discussions that surrounded the 2020 legislative priorities. The two were able to meet with the aide of Senator Rebecca Saldana, hang out with Representative Eric Pettigrew in his office and watch the Senate Gallery. During their time viewing the floor polls, the youth leaders sent a note and caught the attention of Senator Ann Rivers and Senator Mark Mullet who then came out and responded to their inquiries.
“I was impressed by the students’ ability to speak to their own experiences to State Representatives. I was also very impressed how vulnerable they were and how they were able to ask questions.” – Maggie Block, Skyway Youth Network Collaborative Coordinator.
While celebrating Stand for Children Washington’s Day of Action, Natalie Hester, the State Organizing Director of Stand For Children Washington, invited and sponsored members of the SYNC Youth Leadership Council to join in on the day full of fun. Stand for Children was in the midst of working on a Bill to bring more counselors into the school and wanted to create an opportunity for students to understand the direct role of counselors. Additionally, the Bill focuses on ensuring schools are allocating (and spending) their funds on more one-on-one interactions with counselors and students.
Stand for Children Washington is a non-profit education advocacy organization that focuses on ensuring students (K-12) receive a high quality, relevant education, especially those whose are overlooked because of their skin color, zip code, first language, or disability. Stand for Children Washington organizes parents and community members to speak up, while working closely with state legislators to shape education policy and with school districts to implement programming that will benefit students.
“We’re non-partisan, we aren’t committed to one party or another, we’re committed to people who are champions for kids,” says Katie Gustainis, the Marketing and Communications Director at Stand for Children Washington.
As Natalie often works with students in the Black Student Union program at Foster High School (talking about topics such as: what does it mean to advocate, home ownership and the importance of building and sustaining credit); she wanted to work with students that reside in her community of Skyway-West Hill. She began speaking to SYNC members about similar topics and emphasized the importance of advocacy and speaking up for yourself to bring change in your community. Natalie, a resident of Skyway and a parent of two young adults, connected with SYNC while partnering with the Renton Innovation Zone Partnership (RIZP), providing her community engagement and family enrollment expertise.
“They’re leaders. The kids are already doing it; they’re already advocating. So why can’t they get involved in the process? They just needed to take it a step further,” says Natalie.
Prior to their trip to Olympia, Jordan and Fernando prepared for their (potential) time with state legislatures. From thinking of what topics that matter to them and their community, to creating a list of talking points to present and discuss, to deciding what outfit to wear, these young leaders wanted to make an impact. While at Advocacy Day, the two learned how to set up appointments and witnessed how legislatures made time to speak with the public and respond to inquiries. Throughout the day, both Jordan and Fernando were able to visualize the importance of speaking up and how powerful the entire process is.
Every year, various organizations have a lobby day/advocacy day at the State Capitol. On Stand for Children Washington’s day, their specific focus is to ensure kids and communities have access to the people who can make a change and a difference. As first timers, Jordan and Fernando never had the opportunity to speak with local and state representatives and haven’t had the opportunity to be in a space where decisions are made. Alongside advocacy, this opportunity exposed the SYNC members to different kinds of jobs, including entrepreneurship and the logistics of being a lawmaker. Stand for Children Washington empowers students, builds up young leaders, and strengthens their capacity to think past themselves by building relationships to create an impact that will change lives.
“Being a part of SYNC and attending Stand for Children’s Advocacy Day has helped with my public speaking experience.” – Youth Leader Council Member, SYNC.
*SYNC works collaboratively in Skyway/West Hill to create space & opportunities for all area youth to succeed academically, socially, and be prepared to be engaged and successful caring adults. For more information on the Skyway Youth Network Collaborative, please visit: https://westhillsync.wordpress.com/
*Stand for Children Washington ensures that the policies they fight for reach classrooms and directly support students by supporting school districts with guidance and tools to implement successful strategies. For more information on Stand For Children Washington, please visit: http://stand.org/washington