Student advocates go to Sacramento

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Student advocates go to Sacramento
The student advocates for UHS pose with the golden bear in California’s state capitol as they wait to talk about Irvine’s educational needs. (Courtesy of Judy Richonne)

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A gold bear greeted us as we arrived in the capital. Although we did not realize it at first, the statue would come to signify the importance of our trip. Five hours later, we circled back to the gold symbol of California near the end of our visit for the chance to meet and take pictures with Governor Jerry Brown. Although we only caught a glimpse of him, we walked away with more knowledge and passion for our education and the state of California.

On March 8, Aidan Arasasingham (Jr.), Michela Boarnet (Sr.), Aurnov Chattopadhyay (Jr.), Josh Jia (Jr.), Tristan Malhotra (Sr.) and I represented UHS as a part of Irvine Unified Council Parent Teacher Association’s annual advocacy trip to the state capitol in Sacramento. The program has expanded each year, this time with a total of 31 students attending, including those from nearby high schools Edison High School in Huntington Beach and Aliso Niguel High School in Aliso Viejo.

We woke up early to take a plane from John Wayne Airport to Sacramento. Immediately upon arriving to the state capitol, we met with Bob Blattner, IUSD’s lobbyist, and the person who had arranged all the speakers we would meet. We talked to various officials about problems that we had begun learning about over a month before the trip.

Once a week for five weeks, we had met at different high schools in Irvine to hear from various panelists, including IUSD School Board President Paul Bokota, IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker and Irvine Teachers Association president Therese Sorey. During these meetings, we learned that the lack of funding for Irvine schools is a result of many factors, including outdated Propositions with insufficient property taxes and the categorizations of the Local Control Funding Formula which allocates funds to districts based on the number of high needs students. IUSD’s latest issue, the School Facilities Improvement Measure, aims to create equity in school facilities by updating older schools in the district with new technology.

Like many of the students who advocated for IUSD, Arasasingham learned a lot about the finances of our education. He said, “I did not realize how much is involved at the local and state level in making sure we as students have an education. It was surprising to see how underfunded our school district is in comparison to other schools nationally.”
At the capital, we discussed with people from many different sectors of state education and government, including our State Senator John Moorlach, California School Employees Association Executive Director and Director of Governmental Relations Dave Low and Acting Chief of Staff, Assembly Speaker Rick Simpson.

Other topics that we stressed upon was the need for mental health programs, especially due to the atmosphere of academic pressures at Irvine schools, increased occupational/vocational pathways and the need for smaller, more personal classes. We brought up personal stories of experiences with these issues in order to give the officials we talked to a better idea of the problems we face daily that they try to solve at the capital.

Boarnet shared her own experience of the joys of having a small English class of eighteen students compared to the normal forty most people have. “I lobbied that the reduction of class sizes is imperative to our school district because it promotes academic growth and well-being,” she said. “As expected, the legislators all acknowledged my class size concern; however they simply stated there is not enough money in the state budget. This trip has shown me that trying to make a difference on one day is a great start, but it is not enough.”

The teachers who accompanied us on the trip encouraged us to ask important questions that we felt strongly about. Ms. Judy Richonne (Social Science Dept.), the teacher chaperone from UHS, said, “It is re-invigorating to be tangibly reminded of how and where political decision making takes place in our state. Supporting our students, who will then go on to be the decision-makers of the future, is an honor and a pleasure. This was my second time acting as chaperone; the members of California government we met on this occasion were more forth-coming in their level of detail in responses to our questions. I think they have learned that Irvine students are smart, savvy, and a force to be reckoned with – makes me proud to be a teacher.”

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