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Students fight for own 'Bill of Rights'

Even students have the right to a clean restroom, at least according to some at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Redwood City. When the students led the task themselves, they joined a growing youth rights movement in San Mateo County.

Jose Ceja, a sophomore at Sequoia High School, helped the students organize surveys about changes they would like to see in their school, which the administration viewed. The students worked with Don Diaz, the maintenance director, replacing mirrors, improving fixtures and keeping the bathroom clean. A group of seventh graders continues to monitor the cleanliness of the restrooms.

Kennedy Principal Warren Sedar believes the Youth Bill of Rights and Kennedy Middle School’s restrooms give adults a chance to “listen to their perspective.” Sedar believes that the Redwood City School District will endorse the bill and mentions that a new goal of the district is “to embrace youth development.”

The Bill of Rights for Youth of San Mateo County addresses necessary rights that youth deserve, even as simple as a clean restroom.

The bill was created in October 2008 by the Peninsula Partnership Leadership Council, a group of San Mateo County residents that formulate policies to address the needs of children, youth and families in the county, in partnership with the San Mateo County Youth Commission led by Ceja and Sonya Chaudhry, a senior at Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City.

Ceja and Chaudhry joined the Youth Commission in August 2007 and were joined by James Pollack, a junior at Burlingame High School, in October. The PPLC’s purpose is simple — to meet the needs of all youth in San Mateo County. The purpose of the bill is to ensure that “all children and youth have the same rights regardless of their culture, race, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or disability.” The Youth Commission wants all children to feel that they have a voice in their community and are equal regardless of social and physical differences.

The expression of those rights has been no small task. The PPLC and Youth Commission have been meeting with many organizations including schools, cities and businesses to get them to adopt the bill. So far, it has been endorsed by 28 organizations. Some include Belmont, Half Moon Bay, Redwood City, San Mateo County First 5, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Cabrillo Unified School District and the Burlingame School District. It is a tool for organizations so they can consider youth’s opinion when making decisions that involve them such as a healthy environment, modern equipment and positive role models.

This is the second bill for youth in the country. When PPLC Executive Director Larry Best expressed the idea to the Youth Commission, they modeled the concept after successful efforts from Portland and Multnomah County, Ore., the United Nation’s bill, and the Internet. The UN’s Bill of Rights is similar to the Youth Commission’s; they are not laws and express that everyone deserves respect and freedom.

“It is a sign of our times that youth rights are being supported in all ways, ranging from city and to national levels,” Pollack said.

The bill includes nine articles all-relating to youth and their needs. These include health, education, work benefits, abuse and clothing. When adding an article, such as the importance of healthy eating, the PPLC and Youth Commission discuss the destination, obstacles and possible routes to achieving that goal.

In the future, the PPLC plans to examine the California budget and work with families to adjust to financial changes the budget may bring. They also would like students to learn more about possible futures with college information and job training to show youth the many options that they have. Ceja is presently writing the bill in Spanish to allow more people to understand its purpose.

“The Bill of Rights excites some people and scares some people,” Chaudhry said.

Michael Garb, CEO of the Youth and Family Enrichment, is a member of the PPLC and helped generate the bill. He feels that is a “very good tool and guide for youth” and that it will “make people realize that youth and children should have and voice.”

The Jefferson Union High School District was one of the five school districts to sign on and Superintendent Mike Crilly said it is a “general philosophical statement.” Crilly would like to see that all children are equal.

On April 6, Pollack, Best and Jean Holbrook, San Mateo County superintendent, met with U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, to discuss the bill. Speier will be submitting a congressional record stating the bill’s goals and to praise the creators. Speier and her staff are looking into creating a resolution that will be passed. They are currently researching other bills and reviewing their effect before they submit it to Congress.

“The Youth Bill of Rights is filled with common sense and reaffirms the tradition of San Mateo County always being on the cutting edge,” Speier said.

The PPLC and the Youth Commission will continue to push the bill and support the rights of children locally and nationwide.


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Posted in: News by SoulRiser on July 14, 2009 @ 2:28 PM

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