5 PMA Cadets at Mikva Challenge

Genesis Vasquez

On Saturday, February 6, 2016, 5 students-sophomore Isaac Martinez and seniors Taylar Tramil, Manuel Ortiz, Juan Garcia, and myself- from Phoenix Military Academy attended a Youth Voice Conference event organized by Mikva Challenge, at Jones College Prep.

During the event, we were lead to the gym where students from different schools met. Before entering the gym, we were given snacks and those who are 17 years and older were able to register to vote.

“I think that it’s a good motivation factor especially since voting is a really large part of our citizenship. It brings teenagers who are on the path to adulthood and taking the situation seriously,” said Tramil.

Once we were in the gym we had to fill out a paper that said “I am…” and “And I care about…” Students were able to take a picture with their paper in front of a photobooth and were encouraged to upload their pictures on social media with the hashtag “#ChicCongress.”

I put that I am an education activist, strong, independent, a bookworm, and a Chicana; and I care about education, teen pregnancy, STIs, the working class, books, violence, and domestic abuse.

“I am intelligent, a book worm, diverse, influential and I care about an equal education for everyone, everyone advocate reading, and self-advocacy,” said Tramil.

The welcoming ceremony was exciting and it really did “pump up the crowd.” The speakers were enthusiastic to talk about what the schedule for the day would be like and what Mikva was about.

The welcoming speakers had us say chats to get the audience more energized. Not only did we scream out chants and mingled with the other people, but the icebreaker activity was fun. Everyone in the room were in groups and we had to interlock our arms with the person next to us. There were six hoola hoops, for each group, that was passed down to everyone, but everyone had to pass through the hoola hoop.

“I think it was really fun to get people out of their comfort zone by getting their attention on games and icebreakers,” said Tramil.

After the welcoming speech and the ice breaker, people transitioned into rooms for workshops. The first part of the workshop was to do an activity called “Speed Meeting.” During Speed Meeting, everyone in the room was to find a person they did not know, there would be a question asked, to discuss the question; there were three rounds of this.

Another activity was “Telling our Story.” With other students in the room and myself were put into groups and there were posters along the walls. Each poster had a topic, and within our groups we had to write on the poster about how the topic could benefit us. For example, one of the topics was to have high schools teach more technology classes.

Tramil said, “I think that would be implemented because everyone going for STEM programs and it would be ideal to set up students for success.”

The second part of the workshop consisted of “Creating your Solutions.” The leaders from Mikva allowed us to choose what topic we wanted. The topics included: Health and Wellness, School Culture and Climate, Safety, and Employment. I choose the School Culture and Climate. In our groups we had to create storyboards of that showed an issue and how it was fixed. My group proposed the issue of allowing students to use their cell phones in school for learning. Our storyboard had images of a student who used their phone during a class, but it was taken away. Later the student spoke to the school principal to allow cell phones to be used. Students made an assembly to promote the usage of cell phones for learning and it was allowed for students to use their phones for educational purposes. We drew a student who used their phone for the calculator during a math class.

At lunch, everyone had to chose a speaker to talk to. Each speaker had an assigned table, and students had to sit at the table to eat and wait for the speaker to arrive. Some of the speakers were very well known such as Jesus “Chuy” Garcia- who ran against Rahm Emanuel for Mayor of Chicago and he is the 7th County Board District. The speakers that attended had different careers or were from different organizations like Planned Parenthood, aldermans, CEOs, bloggers, and more.

The PMA cadets chose to speak to Sara Duncan the Co-Director, Network for College Success at the University of Chicago.

“I loved her ideas and her explanations on making sure that students actually have that chance to be successful, especially when she mentioned the grading scale on how it really should ideally be compared to what we do now which takes many students off their course to success,” said Tramil.

Duncan disagrees with the grading scale. She believes the scale should not have a 0% because it makes students fail more opposed to getting better grades. She thinks one of the most important things a student needs to learn to do for college is to advocate for themselves. That means asking questions when a student needs help, to speak out for support and it does not mean they are bothering people.

“Example: during finals ask the right questions and the professors will answer. Do not be ashamed to ask for help, it is part of their job,” said Duncan.

Duncan asked us why we thought high school was mandated. After thinking about the importance of high school, we answered that it prepares us for college. Duncan dislikes that schools separate the “smart” kids apart from the “not so smart” kids.

“Education has three purposes. One is to prepare citizens to participate in democracy. Two is to gain access to better jobs that are more enjoyable. The last is to have more access to art, music, or on campus plays. It is cheaper and free, it enriches life in college, and makes you more well rounded,” said Duncan.
Overall, Ms. Duncan guaranteed that those who get suspended in school will fail, and wants another ways to substitute instead of suspensions. She wishes there will be more help for students so that they can avoid dropping out of high school and college. Duncan told us about how most people in the U.S. do not graduate from four year university or colleges because the economy has shifted. I loved talking to Ms. Duncan and getting to learn about her perspective in helping students. One of the most important things I learned about her is that students need to “train” our parents to support us when we go off to college because the first month we WILL feel like we cannot do it. But we will need our parents for support and to encourage us to stay and continue.