"Teen Speak Out” began on Saturday with a brief speech and an explanation of Rule No. 1: “You guys out there aren’t allowed to speak,” moderator Ned Parks told adults in the audience.
Seventeen-year-old senior Jordan Crossgrove got to the main reason students were willing to give up their Saturday for a school-related event. “This is our chance to be heard by you guys.”
Crossgrove ended with this short caveat: Some of the topics would probably make some audience members cringe.
During the discussion, the panel of and high school students shared their opinions about a wide range of topics. They spoke frankly about race relations, communication with teachers and school administrators, the importance of sports, school safety, and the residency case that thrust Copley-Fairlawn Schools into the national spotlight.
The event was a joint effort between Healthy Communities Healthy Youth Copley-Fairlawn and the My Brother/Sister Passages organizations. The panel was made up of students from grades seven to 12.
Moderator Parks started the event by asking the kids what they did after school or practice. Jaleel Richardson, a 16-year-old junior at Copley High School, was the first to speak: “There is no place you can go to just hang out,” he said.
Crossgrove agreed. He said students should have something similar to a bar setting to hang out and relax.
Many of the students mentioned that the only events that allow students to get together are at certain sporting events. A few students mentioned that these sporting events have become the identity of the community, to the exclusion of other pursuits.
Kaitlyn Harris, a 15-year-old sophomore, is into the arts. “People just don’t support the arts like they do sports,” she said. She attributes this lack of interest to the fact that at sporting events people can chat with their friends as opposed to the arts where you have to sit and listen.
Parks also chose a topic that almost every member of the panel had something to comment on: communication between students and administrators. Crossgrove said students are skeptical of teachers who profess understanding.
“Students don’t believe it. There are a lot of people to talk to, but I have the feeling they are looking down on me, (like) 'I’m the adult here, you’re the kid,' ” he said.
However, he recognized a minority of teachers who actually listen. “They might express their opinion, but that’s it, they don’t judge us.”
Copley Middle School student Brendan Ahern, 14, said contact with administrators needs work. “The only time you hear from the principal or the vice-principal is during an assembly, or when they’re addressing the entire student body, or when there’s something going on that they don’t like,” he said.
Another Copley Middle School student had a different issue with teachers -- they only scold so-called bad kids. “The only ones that get in trouble are the ones that always get in trouble,” said Chris Jackovitz, 13. Good kids, or the favorites, have a better chance of getting out of trouble.
Students disagreed on the issue of school safety. “I don’t feel we have enough security guards,” said Latavia Brady, a 16-year-old junior. “We have one, but he’s more like a hall monitor,” she said. Brady said she used to feel safe but does not after the highly publicized fight that took place at Copley and ended up on YouTube (the cell-phone video was quickly removed).
Crossgrove has seen kids in school with pocket knives, but sees no real danger at the school.
Students, for the most part, said they do not feel like they’re in any immediate danger, but there are a few racial collisions.
There were some separations when it came to Williams-Bolar, the woman who put Copley in the spotlight after falsifying information to enter her kids into the Copley school district. A few of the white students on the panel did not think it was a race issue; some of the black students thought it was.
Alise Campbell, a 17-year-old senior who is black, said she knows of a white student attending Copley High School who does not live in the district. She did not give a name.
Emily Ahern, a 17-year-old sophomore who is white, said the situation was simple. “What she (Williams-Bolar) did is what she did. It’s not on the high school, it’s not on the middle school, it’s on the community as a whole for letting it happen,” she said.
Brady said the issue makes her uneasy. “It’s kind of hard for me to sit in class because I’m the only one that’s African American.” She said it was hard for her to explain herself in class because of this.
Despite the comments made by the panel, students said the topic of Williams-Bolar is not discussed inside the walls of Copley High School.
According to Marcie Mason, spokeswoman for Healthy Communities Healthy Youth, the purpose of the event was to empower the students. She said she worked with My Brother/Sister Passages to add more minorities to the panel.
“I would like to see community change, ultimately that would be awesome. But is the community really going to implement changes due to this? Even if they don’t, the kids on this committee feel good about themselves, and what they’ve done today.”