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home : education : schools May 26, 2018


5/2/2018 9:08:00 AM
Sisters students took safety concerns to Washington
Meaghan Greaney, Nancy Montecinos, Senator Ron Wyden, Sophia Bianchi, and Mary Florian gather after Wyden’s listening session.  photo by Sue Stafford
+ click to enlarge
Meaghan Greaney, Nancy Montecinos, Senator Ron Wyden, Sophia Bianchi, and Mary Florian gather after Wyden’s listening session. photo by Sue Stafford

Sen. Wyden ‘listens to the future’
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) engaged in a wide-ranging question-and-answer event with 60 Sisters High School juniors and seniors at a "Listening to the Future" session on Friday, April 27.

Wyden, who was here for a series of nine town hall meetings throughout the state, made a special point of coming to Sisters after four SHS girls who made a trip to Washington D.C. in March had been unable to meet at length with him due to his attendance at committee meetings in D.C. (See story on page 1.)

He told the students he started the listening series in 2013 when the government had been shut down. He likened the Senate at that time to "people acting like children arguing over the sand box."

"I'm going to go home to talk to some adults in Oregon - high school juniors and seniors," he reported saying.

He started the Friday session telling the students, "This is time for you to educate me. I'm so proud of the Sisters students. It's important to have the information come from the bottom up." He encouraged them to get involved and speak out. Wyden assured the students no question was off limits.

After some shy hesitation from the crowd, the first question came from a young man who asked the Senator, "At what point did you know you wanted be a Senator?"

Wyden's response was very personal, saying he was "dribbling my way through life" with dreams of being an NBA basketball player. Lacking the necessary height and speed, that dream faded, but while working at a senior citizen lunch program, he was encouraged by the people he helped to run for Congress. He became the youngest person from Oregon to be elected to Congress, and he became an advocate for the poor elderly.

The students went on to cover the waterfront with their questions: mental health; gun violence; school funding; climate change; immigration and DACA; tax reform; military spending; leadership; net neutrality; environmental protection; foreign policy regarding South and North Korea and Syria; and affordable college.

One student wanted to know what had been the reactions from other Senators to the student walkouts following the Parkland shooting.

"They are waiting to see how much grassroots change is going to take place (on the state level). I think many of them are on the fence, watching. That is why we have to push so hard right now (on gun violence)," Wyden told the students.

In response to an inquiry about funding for Oregon schools, Wyden explained that the Federal government owns a large portion of the state due to national forest land and BLM lands. Because of that, the timber on those lands can't be sold to fund schools like in other states where more timber is in private hands. Wyden is currently working on a bill titled Secure Rural Schools that would provide additional Federal funds for schools in states like Oregon where the U.S. government owns much of the land.

Several students asked questions regarding mental-health issues, some in connection to gun violence. Wyden cautioned the students to not fall into the trap of the "created false dichotomy." He said the two topics are not an either/or situation but rather, both issues must be addressed.

Wyden shared his own personal story about his brother Jeffrey who "died way too young," after experiencing schizophrenia. He told the students that not enough is done for those with mental-health issues because they have no political power, no money, and no political action committee.

Wyden believes requiring background checks before any gun purchase in the U.S., with no exceptions, would be a watershed moment. He would like to see the restriction placed on bump-stocks. However, he thinks getting an outright ban on all assault rifles is "a heavy lift."

"Your generation will not accept gun violence anymore... We can't allow mass shootings in schools to become the norm," he said.

The Senator was clear he does not support the administration's proposal to include a question regarding citizenship on the 2020 census.

"We are a better, freer, stronger nation because of legal immigration. I am in favor of justice for the DACA children. I think it's outlandish to spend $33 billion on a wall," Wyden said. "However, we will compromise in order to get justice for DACA."

In response to Wyden's question asking if 16-year-olds should be able to vote, the students were about equally divided in the affirmative and negative responses.

Wyden encouraged the students to think locally and act locally to bring about change. He told them to engage with local businesses about where their energy comes from. Start conversations on issues and share knowledge and opinions, he told the students.

"Members of Congress are trying to read whether young people are going to participate in the government. Are they going to stay involved?" he said.

"This is your generation, your time as it relates to personal safety. We can't just sit by and do nothing," Wyden reminded the students. "There wasn't a bad question in the house. I am walking out of here feeling the students are going to lead the way. This conversation is not ended - to be continued."

By Sue Stafford


When word of the mass shooting of students in Parkland, Florida hit the news, Lisa Clausen experienced the all-too-familiar anger and frustration aroused by earlier shootings.

"It is unimaginable to me that we can have 5- and 6-year-old first-graders slaughtered in their classroom and do nothing about it... This time feels different, primarily because there are some very strong and articulate students who have been personally impacted by gun violence that are raising their voices," Clausen said.

She decided to do something, and she planted the seed of an idea in the community, put in the work to bring it to fruition, garnered some support from the community, and provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for four young women from Sisters High School to experience Washington, D.C.

The four girls who were chosen to make the trip were seniors Sophia Bianchi and Mary Florian and juniors Nancy Montecinos and Meaghan Greaney.

Prior to leaving on the trip the students worked very hard to craft a position paper outlining six initiatives to help solve the problem of school shootings in America. They had the opportunity to present their initiatives to Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley as well as Representative Greg Walden.

The paper concluded with, "Please, help us protect the children of America by taking action to enforce measures that would prevent these things from happening."

The students spent five days in Washington, with Clausen as their chaperone, touring the city, meeting with Oregon's elected officials, visiting Congress and the Supreme Court as well as a number of museums, meeting with Emerge, an organization that teaches women how to be effective candidates for elected office, and taking part in the March for Our Lives on March 24 with 800,000 other marchers from all over the country.

"For me personally, the trip to D.C. was really never about the march," Clausen said. "It really was about the work, and exposing some Sisters students to the political and legislative process. While the march was a powerful moment and a conduit to the work, it was a means to an end and not the end itself."

Clausen hopes the students understand that "the privilege of voting is the most powerful tool they are given to impact their lives and hope they take that responsibility seriously." She doesn't want to see them "turn over their power to someone else" by not voting.

According to the girls themselves, Clausen's hope is becoming reality.

"Now that I am 18 and able to vote, I know more than ever that my vote matters, and that the amazing privilege given to me is also incredibly important to make a difference in this country," said senior Mary Florian.

Meaghan Greaney, a junior, added, "After this trip I have definitely felt more involved in the government and compelled to stay informed about the stances that our elected officials are taking on important issues."

Junior Nancy Montecinos indicated the trip had increased her interest in politics, "and has pushed me to stay more involved in government, by voting in the future and participating in marches and just being more aware of the issues in our country."

"I plan to be a strong participator in our government, and do things like participate in marches, vote, and use my voice to fight for the world that I want," senior Sophia Bianchi said.

All four of the students came home from Washington feeling empowered and hopeful.

After meeting with the women in the Emerge office, Bianchi felt "very encouraged and ... more confident about my future and how I should make decisions."

Bianchi and Greaney earlier this year started the Unity Club at SHS to promote acceptance and tolerance so they are involved in bringing change in their own sphere of influence.

Clausen hoped the girls would gain "the knowledge that the government is for the people and by the people and that anyone and everyone can have a seat at the table. Even students from Sisters, Oregon."

"Going on this trip and participating in something so important has taught me that I have so much potential and influence that I can and must take advantage of if I want to get something done," Bianchi said.

Florian told The Nugget, "I learned that my voice, and all the voices of students and people from a small town matter. I learned that if you push, your representative will hear your opinion, and take it into consideration."

Participating in the March for Our Lives was a highlight of the trip for all four students.

"During the march it felt like change might actually be coming and that the young people of this country are really going to start taking control of our future. It felt different than any other time," Greaney said.

Florian concurred, "Coming out of the march I was more confident than ever that it wasn't a moment, it's a movement."

"This event showed me that change is possible when you use your voice to fight for it, and that we can achieve better gun laws," Bianchi added.

"This march was important because we as a generation are showing that we are here to shake things up and show that we are serious about making a change for future generations," Montecinos said.

The trip was funded by donations from various local residents as well as Clausen herself. Others also supplied gift cards to Starbucks, Jamba Juice, and Whole Foods.

Clausen indicated she would do the trip again, but differently:

"I would like to see donors help to provide funds to a nonprofit. Juniors would apply to take the trip during their senior year. Donors would vet the students and decide on two students to take, along with an adult community member who has a particular interest in a legislative issue, such as climate change."

Gratitude for the opportunity to make the trip and experience all they saw, did, and heard was evident in all the remarks made by the girls.









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