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Children propose ideas to create safer schools

October 5, 2000
Ann Arbor resident Nick Ludolph, 12, voices his opinions on violence in front of state legislators and community leaders during KidSpeak at the Capitol on Thursday. Kids from across Michigan were able to voice their concerns regarding youth violence.

Grade school students from across Michigan gathered at the state Capitol on Wednesday to voice opinions about gun control, higher education and violence in schools.

A panel of lawmakers and community officials listened to the students and made notes of possible solutions.

Students traveled from several cities to speak at the Capitol, including Grand Rapids, Detroit, Lansing and Kalkaska. KidSpeak, which gets together once every two years, is part of a child advocacy organization called Michigan’s Children.

Michigan’s Children President Sharon Claytor Peters said ideas and solutions proposed by the children help to better programs and policies made by legislators.

“There is an obvious need for improvement in violent schools and families,” Peters said. “Our goal today is to hear what the children have to say about schools and where lawmakers should direct their efforts.”

The main issue discussed was violence in schools, neighborhoods and families. More than 40 students shared solutions, personal stories and ideas about how to improve and make schools safer.

Rachael Dudley, a student from Southfield, said more after-school groups need to be formed to keep children out of trouble when parents are still at work.

“Between the hours of 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., violence, sexual activity and just plain trouble is at its peak,” the 15-year-old said. “Kids know the difference between right and wrong, but really bad decisions are made when parents are not around to guide.”

Other children had more personal stories to tell about issues relating to their families. Violence in neighborhoods was another issue the students wanted the legislators to address. If gun control was more of an issue, said Grand Rapids student Darrion Cobbs, it may have prevented his father’s death.

“When I was 5 years old, I saw my father answer our front door and the man on the other side took out a gun and shot and killed my father,” the 12-year-old said.

“Sometimes I visit my father’s grave and wish that I could still play Super Mario Brothers with him.

“If our lawmakers make it harder for bad people to get guns, then it might prevent another dad from dying.”

Responding to all of the children’s testimonies, state Rep. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor, said attempts have been made to remedy the problem of school violence.

“Money has been budgeted for next year to implement parent training programs,” Brater said. “Sometimes children and parents need more than just a kind word to help them through tough times. Mental health needs to be a priority among abused children as well as abusive parents.”

Another issue regarding young students addressed by Ann Arbor student Mike Bright is the feeling of alienation when transitioning from elementary school to middle school.

Standardized tests just generalize students, making them feel less important, Bright also said.

“We seem to be telling kids how to be instead of letting them be who they are,” he said. “Standardized tests just suck all of the creativity and uniqueness from them.

“By doing away with or changing the tests, we could decrease the feelings of violence in the students and promote creativity.”

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