By Deborah Brancic, Pasadena Now Correspondent
The 4th annual State of the Kids Event at the Rose Bowl Pavilion brought a record number of students in touch with town officials Wednesday evening. The night included a breakout session in which the youth were paired with their elders to discuss several issues including school problems, fears, hopes, and any suggestions the children believed would make them feel safer. The pairing was meant to educate those in charge about what their young constituents believed was lacking.
Cheryl Greer Jarman, professor of human development at Pacific Oaks College, was the keynote speaker for the event. “The true destination tonight is to hear from the youth,” she said. “The educator in me enjoys the art of questioning.” The goal of the night was to listen to the children and discover ways to serve them better, she said, because it was the officials in attendance who bear the burden of making the city a safer place.
“They say a budget is a reflection of the priorities of a city and I am proud to say that the city of Pasadena has placed youth as a priority,” said the Honorable Jacque Robinson, Vice Mayor of Pasadena. “We are in the process of doing things that we hope will make your quality of lives better here in Pasadena, but we want to continue to get your input and continue to put your ideas to action.” Robinson encouraged the students in attendance to share their thoughts, and attendees were later broken into smaller groups to discuss guided talking points.
During the breakout session, many students expressed concern over drug use in Pasadena public schools. One student said the boys’ bathrooms at Pasadena High School (PHS) often smelled like weed. Other criticisms were the fear of bullying in middle schools, a lack of “good electives” in Eliot Middle School, and an undeserved bad reputation for John Muir High School, because of its location. “What matters most is your perception, as opposed to reality, because perception is reality,” said Renatta Cooper, Pasadena Unified School District president. This was what shaped Muir’s reputation, she said.
Students also shared fears about wanting to attend college, but not knowing if there were enough scholarships or guidance available to them. The youths expressed an interest in seeing more internship and training opportunities, mentorship programs, business classes, field trips, workshops, and career guidance.
Outside of the school system, students said they would like to see more community involvement, such as weekly events at city parks, and more extracurricular activities available after hours.
Near the end of the night, one student took it on himself to single out Cooper and address her personally. As someone who had attended PHS, Muir, Marshall Fundamental High School and Blair High School, he felt he needed to address several problems he had with the public school system. Issues he brought up were fights in school, student drop-outs, bullying, lack of funding, and overall safety issues. At one point he compared campus to a prison, with cameras everywhere and only one entrance and exit.
“Last year a good friend of mine took his life due to bullying,” he said, getting choked up. “I will not let that happen.” He said his friend had been picked on because of his height, and that teachers needed to make more of an effort to prevent instances such as that. He had attended the event in an effort to get the ideas out there that students were “not okay” in school, and more had to be done to tackle the mental pressures they dealt with.
“The last part of the night was the most meaningful to me,” said Jarman. “We need to get to the core of the problem in order to deal with it.” She was proud of the young man for standing up and sharing his story, as well as the other students who spoke during the event. The information gained that night would be instrumental in creating policies in the future.
Dr. Eric Walsh, Director of Public Health, said he was pleased with how the night went. “The information gathered tonight will help to inform the Youth Master Plan and the School City Community Work Plan,” he said. In previous years the State of the Kids event was mostly data-driven, but having the students attend this year was a welcome change, he said.
“The kids who go to public school will tell you what people are saying,” he said, and perception unfortunately shape budget.
“Students in our district are disproportionately being sent to private schools, we lose about 30 to 40 percent of students to private institutions.” This decreases the budget and the amount of money that goes into budgeting the school system. If officials could find a way to make the schools safer, and get that idea across to the parents, that would greatly increase their ability to fund better programming for children. This is what he hoped the night would help to accomplish.
The State of the Kids Event was organized by the Partnership for Children, Youth and Families.