Investment in youth means listening to young people first!


RMYCTHUNDER BAY – Editorial – I invested several hours on Saturday listening to young people at the Regional Youth Multicultural Council. The bad news is that the problems faced by young people remain fundamentally the same today as they were centuries ago when I was in high school.

The good news is that there is a massive desire to work toward real solutions. Many of the solutions, including starting to broadcast their meetings online across the region demonstrate that the youth are taking a longer-term view toward the future of our region.

Investment in youth means listening to young people first. There is an old adage that ‘children should be seen and not heard’. Unfortunatly that simply does not work.

The RYMC have offered solutions for the region for a long time. Often it seems that their voices have not been heard by all the older people who could assist getting the solutions implemented.

I believe however if you want to feel good about Thunder Bay’s future, there is a positive way to do just that – listen to the youth in our community.

The Regional Youth Multicultural Council meeting on Saturday was led by a young grade nine student assisted at time by a young lady in grade 11. These two young adults shepherded a large group through a long agenda of topics. Listening to the youth, you gain a real appreciation of the depth of research, the depth of caring, and the true concern for our community that this group of youth, ranging from grade five to grade 11 students possess.

The RMYC are preparing to present the results of their survey of conditions in Thunder Bay schools. The report has been prepared, and the youth are getting down to the work of presenting this information to both the Lakehead and Lakehead Separate School Boards, as well as the public via a media conference coming very soon.

Interestingly, and perhaps sadly too, many of the issues facing today’s youth in Thunder Bay are very similar to those that this writer saw many long years ago when I attended high school. Drugs, racism, bullying, homophobia, judgement of youth over what kids wear, are issues that have yet to see major changes. In some cases, listening to the students, things are getting worse rather than better.

However, rather than simply list the problems, the RMYC are seeking to effect real change. Solutions are the order of the day.

What struck me were that the issues that students across the city marked as problems in their schools, including drugs, bullying, intimidation, are all issues where there are strong school board policies in effect. Perhaps the current approaches to those problems are not reaching the results that they seek to do?

Some of the policies seem somewhat ironic when you think of them. For example if a student skips class, one of the ramifications could be a suspension from school. That kind of solution seems strange. It says, if you don’t come to school, we are going to send you home and not let you come to school. Likely the message received for most students would be ‘cool’.

Often too is seems that the solutions are made further from the reality facing students in the classrooms. Provincial political solutions made in Queen’s Park often are likely too far removed from the real problems today’s students face.

To digress, a few years ago, the McGuinty Government was proposing changes to Ontario’s laws that would impact young drivers. Those changes made MADD, a lobby group very happy. Local MPP Bill Mauro, sitting down over pizza with his sons and some of their friends quickly had the youth point out the real problems that lobby groups and politicians had not seen.

One of the issues at the school council level is that the people who most need the help, and are most impacted by the problems are also likely the least likely to participate on council.

RYMC takes a different approach. They gain input from a broad base of the students at the schools. That information forms the base of their planning for solutions based approach. It is very grassroots based. Engaging the mass of students, asking them what impacts them is an approach that generates hard data that might not be as positive as some might like.

Reality is however it is impossible to fix something until you know what is really wrong. The realities for too many in our city are that issues of racism, poverty, drugs, alcohol, and bullying are far too real, and far too damaging. Perhaps hearing those realities is a little too harsh for some.

Stay tuned, the RYMC will be offering real solutions once again. The only question will be are those most capable of implementing real change prepared to listen, and then act?

James Murray

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