Guest op-ed from Ellie Miglin, a youth activist, and president of the Roosevelt High School Democrats
Youth activism is powerful because of how it highlights what a small group of people can do, often without any previous political, social or financial infrastructure to back them up. It was the result of student activism which brought hundreds of strangers together in protest of our representative’s lack of a climate crisis plan, reinvigorated the conversation about gun violence in Iowa by organizing a walkout and even fought to keep teachers at their high school.
In a time when everything feels uncertain, I hope Iowans don’t forget where a lot of support for our youth is coming from: our public schools. As we are seeing now during this crisis, supporting education means more than just being in a classroom, it also means ensuring the students are fed.
Des Moines Public Schools provides free or reduced lunches to 76.2% of its student body and many teachers at my school, Theodore Roosevelt High School, have noticed how some students coming to school on Mondays are very aggravated because they have not had a proper meal that weekend. The Roosevelt PTA has had to set up a teacher pantry fundraiser to help teachers cover the cost of supplies and supplemental snacks for those students.
One out of every nine Iowans is food insecure, which means 341,890 Iowans do not have a reliable food source, and 111,520 of which are children, many of whom receive food aid from their schools. Yet within this past month’s time, our Legislature has continued its trend to underfund schools and schools have become a key source of relief during this pandemic.
If the younger generations are the future, why are we defunding the biggest support institution our government has for them? Des Moines Public School alumni have gone on to revolutionize biomedicine with CRISPR and created one of the biggest social media platforms. More broadly, Norman Borlaug, who has been accredited with saving a billion lives by modifying corn stalks, was also a product of Iowa public high schools. If our representatives want to tout our state’s success in education, the first thing they need to do is ensure our public schools are fully funded.
Ways that you can help:
- Donate to this GoFundMe created by Theodore Roosevelt’s Student Council to help fund Des Moines Public School’s Food and Nutrition Department which is offering meal support for students every day until schools can reopen; backpacks of food are also offered on Fridays to sustain students through the weekends.
- Support candidates running for the Iowa Senate and House who advocate for schools and have throughout their career. Another Des Moines Public School Alumni and youth activist, Isabella O’Connor, just wrote a great article on how to get involved with campaigns while socially distancing.
- Elections are coming up sooner than you may think – June 2nd is our primary. Be sure to have a plan to vote and to get at least three of your friends to vote via absentee.
When our social media bubbles already dictate so much within our lives, how will self-isolation impact our divisive culture? Will our pent up apathy be set aside to enact real change? I am afraid only those who already believe in being proactive, preventative and empathetic will see this crisis as an example as to why a change in our political, social and economic culture is necessary. Namely, why fully funding public schools is apolitical.
But one thing I hope you can learn from youth activism is how a small group of people really can make a difference in their community work to change how it is now into how it should be.
by Ellie Miglin