Voices of Thurgood Marshall High School Students in Dayton, Ohio
Although students in a high school are generally too young to vote in the presidential election, they will step out into the world of higher education or work during this upcoming presidency. They will graduate. They will assume increasing independence, responsibility and perspective on a larger world. They watch the election but will live the results. As part of their studies, students at Thurgood Marshall High School in Dayton, Ohio, are being asked to be academic observers of the election process- watching debates, writing reaction papers, learning roles of government – we thought that this forum was an opportunity to give them a voice as well. We invited students to address a simple question.
“If you could speak to the candidates, what would you say to them about building your future in America? What would you ask the candidates?”
To begin, one student put the candidates on notice:
“I just want to let you know that the way one of you runs the next four years will affect the way I will vote in the future and my career goals.”
Understandably, concerns about college access and affordability were by far the most common. Students worry about the ability to pay and the choices that they will have. More than half of the comments collected focused on these issues. The students were keenly aware of the need for college and equally aware of the barriers to access.
“We can’t get jobs to pay for school because we either don’t have high enough education or the jobs are going to older people who seem to need it more. How will our future be good or better if we can’t go to school because we can’t pay for school because we can’t get jobs or afford it?”
“Why let someone’s pockets determine their future?”
“My parents aren’t rich and I haven’t won the lottery so how can you help me and millions of other seniors preparing for graduation? We are struggling, fighting for scholarships, but some….well not some, ALOT will not make it. We need help.”
“I don’t want to be buried in debt.”
Employment, jobs and economy are also common concerns for the students. Dayton, Ohio, is familiar with layoffs and business closings. They are in the midst of controversy over the bail-out of the auto industry and the loss of retirement funds. Students have watched the debates and were particularly aware of the portions that focused on jobs after graduation. Discussion of jobs and opportunities were as numerous as the comments about college and often the two were linked. For some it was a question of economic policy…
“I believe that more policies should be in place so that more people can create businesses and jobs with ease.”
“Both candidates have spoken on this matter many times – but in my opinion, I still don’t know how they plan to get jobs in the United States.”
“Many people feel that we will face extremely rough times, so how will you help the future workers of America?”
“Is the economy so bad that I cannot choose a career that makes me happy?”
“What about the deficit? How will you pay it off?”
“What about the budget and more jobs?”
For others it was very personal….
“I am an 18 year old African American and all my life I have wanted to become a firefighter. My mom passed due to a fire and that inspired me further. I look around in Ohio at the colleges and training and [I am not sure]…..I was wondering if you can create more opportunities.”
“I would tell the candidates that I want to be able to go to school and have a decent job and be able to provide for my family.”
“It is scary to know that you’re on your own after high school, and you want to make the right decision. I want to have a plan and have a career so that I’m able to provide for myself and my family. I want to be able to have a career not a job and that means our economy needs to get better.”
“What about the GM employees who lost their savings for retirement? My parents had ….savings and lost all of it, now they have to work for the rest of their lives. What is your plan for helping working class citizens?”
Beyond speaking to issues, there were those that wanted to appeal to the candidates as human beings. They wanted to reach out to the candidates as a person with a home, family and concerns of their own – not just as a political leader.
“Have you ever thought about your kids and your family members’ education while speaking on that topic – and how your decisions will affect them also?”
“My future means everything to me, I want to be successful and make my family proud – and I’m speaking for many teenagers. I just want to know, as a human being, have you ever wanted to be somebody but become scared because you don’t know if you can afford education, scared you will be turned away or not good enough. If you think the middle class doesn’t matter – we do – and we need more help than you think.”
“I’d ask his advice.”
“I would ask what is the hardest part of being president – and do you worry about it?”
“When done, I would shake his hand and say goodbye.”
Then there were those that demonstrated an awareness of and sensitivity to the needs of others and to the less-fortunate of their community – they raised those concerns.
“What will you do about healthcare – it is high priced for senior citizens.”
“We need to think about poverty.”
“We need to do something about guns and violence – they are killing people.”
“We need to decrease crime. How do you feel about giving a convict a second chance after they serve their term and have proven that they are ready to be treated equally again?”
“We need better law enforcement and more minorities in law enforcement.”
The students also spoke to the future…both in exuberant optimism and with hesitancy. They echo the thoughts of many Americans.
“I am super confident in my future!”
“I used to be confident in my future.”
“I’m confident even though I am unsure.”
“I am nervous about the future.”
Although young, they were well informed and were able to target those questions that remain on every voter’s mind….
“Do you really think you can handle the economy? Is everything you stated in the debates, TV adds, posters etc – is everything true? Is it really going to happen?”
“If your plans aren’t successful – what is your back-up plan to make sure that some of the promises are fulfilled?”
Finally, one student summarized it all…..
“To the next president of the United States, I would like to know how much you really care about my future…”
These student voices come to you from the Junior and Senior classes of Thurgood Marshall High School in Dayton, Ohio. Students were offered the opportunity to participate and submit a comment – we thank all those who participated and wish we had space to use them all. We were given 110 responses – only a fraction are represented here. We want to give a special thank you to Sharon Goins, MEd, Principal, for her support and cooperation.
Thurgood Marshall High School is a public high school named for the late civil rights attorney and Supreme Court Justice. Thurgood Marshall pioneered civil rights and opportunities for all African Americans. Thurgood Marshall High School serves 640 students, 96% African American, 92% poverty and all of whom are focusing on improving their lives and community through a quality education. Thurgood Marshall High School has recently launched efforts to transform into a STEM High School. KnowledgeWorks is proud to be a partner in their efforts.
Guest post by Sharon Brown, PhD, and Amy Ochander.