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Yuma Youth Town Hall brings students together to talk education funding

In its sixth iteration, the annual Yuma Youth Town Hall event at Arizona Western College brought more than 150 students together from around Yuma Union High School District to network, meet business owners and community organizers, and discuss preK-12 education funding in the state.

“It was a huge success. You could just feel the energy in the room,” said Shelley Mellon, who owns R.L. Jones Insurance, is a member of the YUHSD Governing Board, and helped organize Friday’s town hall. “[The students] came up with some really creative ideas of how to fund education. They are sold on it. They are in the classrooms and know how much we need that.”

The event, which was hosted by the Yuma Youth Leadership program, consisted of 10 groups of students mixed with varying numbers between YUHSD’s six campuses. After a morning of networking with local businesses, hearing from Representative Charlene Fernandez, and learning about career opportunities in fields ranging from public defense to education to fire services, the groups were challenged with discussing potential solutions to the funding model of public education in Arizona.

That started with brain storming through a series of prompts, including what should be the goals for Arizona’s preK-12 Education system and how does public funding impact the ability to achieve those goals. Each group was required to come up with some significant talking points and present their ideas, creatively, through a skit.

Students were required to research state education funding prior to the event, but they also learned a great deal about the process through their discussions.

“I think the majority of students aren’t getting treated equally as compared to other schools in other states, and at some point we are going to have to compete with them in the career field or even getting into college itself,” Yuma High School senior Miguel Alcala said. “It starts with talking to our parents to let them know because within our community there is a lack of parent participation. They might not have knowledge about [education funding] or experience with it themselves, so it definitely starts there. And for those of who are involved within our school, we need to get the word out there as well.”  

For Mellon, who has seen the event grow since its inception in 2014, the beauty of the event is seeing so many students come together to take part in a valuable, meaningful discussion.

“To get them involved in civil discourse at this age, to have a topic and then allow creative ideas to be vetted and come up with a consensus is really important,” she said. “If they can learn this at ages 14-18, they will carry these skills for the rest of their lives. I’m encouraged to see how brilliant they are and the ideas they come up with. I always walk out of here more energized and encouraged for our future.”

The Town Hall is a collaborative event between AWC, YUHSD, and Southwest Arizona Town Hall. According to AWC’s website, the purpose of the forum is to create a culture of unity in diversity and moderating skills, which are essential in learning how to work with varying ideas. Yuma Youth Town Hall provides an opportunity for the up-and-coming generations to practice this skill during discussion about relevant topics occurring in society.

YYTH had more than 200 students.

To see more photos of the event, click the above image or GALLERY

Eric Patten