Students tackle V.I.'s toughest challenges at Youth Summit
Published: October 19, 2012
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ST. CROIX - The need for transparency in government.
Domestic violence. Bullying. Drop-out rates. Gang violence. Poverty. Unemployment.
Those are just some of the problems that about 60 of the territory's high school students selected as high-priority issues for the Virgin Islands during a three-day Youth Summit, which started Wednesday at St. Croix Educational Complex.
By the end of the summit this afternoon, the students intend to have crafted legislative policy proposals to address each issue.
The final step, scheduled for late this afternoon, is presenting their proposals to lawmakers.
"It's a civic empowerment program," said Jon Gerst, a program leader with the Close Up Foundation, as he moved between groups of high school students brainstorming ideas about how to cure the territory's ills on Thursday afternoon. "It's to inform, inspire and empower them."
The summit, facilitated by the Close Up Foundation based in Washington, D.C., was paid for with a grant from the U.S. Interior Department's Office of Insular Affairs.
All four of the territory's public high schools sent students to participate in the summit, and The Manor School also participated.
"It's going really well. The students have really taken to the mission for the week, really quickly," said Mark Sloan, also with the Close Up Foundation.
The teens will come up with issue statements and policy proposals for each problem - with the hope that senators listen and formulate legislation based on their proposals.
Participants were divided into six committees: Technology, Natural Resources and the Environment; Labor and the Economy; Government, the Budget and Crime; Education; Health; and Youth Issues, Sloan said.
K'Mani Dowe, a senior at Charlotte Amalie High School, is chairman of the Youth Issues Committee and was working Thursday afternoon on proposals to help fix the three problems his committee was dealing with: bullying, the drop-out rate and gang violence and crime.
"It's a really good program," he said of the summit. "They treat us as if we are adults, and they listen to what we have to say."
Naiema Durand, a senior at Educational Complex, said that the program had helped give her a sense of how things work in the territory and on St. Croix.
"It helps me understand a lot more. I never really did something like this before," she said.
On Thursday afternoon, Durand was developing an issue statement about domestic violence.
The summit began with brainstorming on which major issues the territory faces. The issues were categorized by committee, and the teens then honed down the issues to two or three for each committee.
Then, after a panel discussion with local experts, they began working on issue statements and legislative policy proposals to cure the social ills.
Today, the proposals will be debated, voted on and possibly amended before they are presented to senators.
Dowe said that the summit experience is a good one for participants. A similar summit was conducted on St. Thomas last year, which he attended.
"I get a sense that someone else cares, because a lot of times as youth in the Virgin Islands, we feel like no one else listens," Dowe said. "This program gives us a voice."
- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.