Flipping the Script on Vote for Kids

In 2013, the Westchester Children’s Association launched the Vote for Kids campaign that aims to elevate Westchester’s children and youth to the top of the public agenda among candidates, elected officials, media and the general public during the upcoming elections.

Vote for Kids provides tools to help child advocates, parents, caretakers or community members – keep children’s issues at the forefront of this election cycle. In the past, the campaign has reached out to politicians, asking how they will put children and families first. However, this year we put local students at the forefront.

Our Ground Truthing Process

In a meeting at Berkley College on September 27, we spoke with 16 students between the ages of 14 and 17 who participate in the White Plains Youth Court. They told us what they like about their local communities, what needs to be improved, and what they wish politicians would speak about more often. We collected their ideas via a written questionnaire and a 30-minute conversation. For more from the students, listen to the first episode of the new season of our Ground Truthing Podcast.

The term “ground truthing” refers to the process of collecting information through direct observation, rather than through inference. We strongly believe one of the key ingredients in advocating on behalf of children and families is to listen to children and families. With that in mind, here are the things the Youth Court students have at the top of mind prior to Election Day.

Key Issues for Students

  • Gun violence was the issue cited most frequently by the student respondents. They are concerned about the screening processes for purchasing guns, as well as incidents of gun violence. We highlighted the student-led March For Our Lives in a previous episode of Ground Truthing.“Our generation, Gen. Z is often labeled as lazy, disengaged, unconcerned, and simply worried about the wrong things,” Ever Mack from New Rochelle High School told a crowd of thousands on hand for the march For Our Lives Rally on March 24, 2018. “So, I’m glad that what we’re talking about is simple common sense; we can handle that,” she continued with a sarcastic grin.
  • Immigration and citizenship was another topic students were very closely following. Again, this is not a new topic. Earlier this year, we spoke to Daniel Marshall, senior at Irvington High School and coordinator of the June 20th March for Refugee Families.  “I’ve been working with some child refugees, they are students in my town … it’s amazing to see that their like right around my age, and yet their lives have been so different,” Daniel told WCA in June. “These are kids, I could have been one of them. They’re similar in age to me. They just have had a totally different life. So I don’t know why, if we’re able to help them I don’t know why we shouldn’t. There’s really no reason not to.”
  • Mental health was another issue mentioned in our conversation with students, which is not surprising given their concerns with gun violence. One student added that healthcare in general should be higher on the public agenda than it is currently.
  • Other issues that more than one student would like to hear more about included negative portrayals of girls and women (presumably in public forums and the media), kids’ apathy and disillusionment with the political process, community building and neighborhood improvement, and racial inequities in the criminal justice system.

Overall, the students implored politicians and other adults to listen to them and their peers. Much like Ever Mack at the March For Our Lives rally, the students were eager to fight the stereotypes of their generation being uninterested or incapable of adding to political discourse.

“They need to hear our voices more,” said Chelsea from White Plains during our group conversation. “Our voices should be heard and something should be done about what we’re asking for, especially if it’s repetitive.”

For more information on our Vote for Kids campaign and other important news about Westchester’s children, subscribe to our Ground Truthing podcast.