Youth Organizations Become Involved With 2020 Vision Plan

By Laurel Oldershaw

In 2008, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) created the 2020 Vision Plan in an attempt to close the achievement gap in the district. Over the past two years, city officials, Berkeley High School Principal Jim Slemp, and various teachers have participated on the All City Equity Task Force (ACET) to determine a course of action to close the biggest achievement gap in the state.

The 2020 Vision Plan aims to completely eliminate the achievement gap at BHS by the graduating class of 2020, this year’s second graders. The plan is based on eight specific components, or “priorities.” These include creating a Plan for Educational Success and Healthy Child Development, improving on parent/guardian and youth engagement, and addressing barriers to learning.

Many concerns have arisen about where funding will come from and a possible lack of diversity on the planning committees. These concerns have been discussed at the meetings and in the context of forums, but no final conclusions have been reached.

High school students began to get involved in the plan last summer, participating in the youth engagement sessions. Youth groups, including Youth Together (YT), Berkeley Youth Alternatives (BYA), Jewish Youth for Community Action (JYCA), and the YMCA–PG&E Teen Center joined together to start the Youth Initiative. Their goal is to learn how to present the information about the achievement gap to their peers as well as to adults.

“Students hadn’t been that involved,” explained YT leader Chinyere Tutashinda. “It was something I was really wanting to tackle this year.”

Berkeley International High School senior Ari Koeppel has been involved in the process for over a year and a half as a member from both the YMCA–PG&E Teen Center and JYCA. “The way I see it, what we are doing now is coming up with a broad, encompassing plan for how to combat racial inequality in the Berkeley schools,” explained Koeppel. He added, “By pointing out what the problems are and coming up with the stepping stones for solutions, we are beginning on a path to bring about equal achievement and equal lives among all ethnicities in Berkeley.”

“[The] objectives are two–fold,” said Tracy Hanna, Executive Director of the YMCA–PG&E Teen Center. “One, to ensure that the YMCA continues to offer services in line with the community’s needs and two, to engage youth in their own and their community’s educational and health outcomes.”

“In our youth meetings, we have been working to turn dense paperwork into exciting ideas that will be accessible to teens,” explained Koeppel. The youth partcipants involved have been able to translate the proposal presented by the ACET into a survey with youth–friendly vocabulary. It will be given out to high school students in Berkeley, the results from which will be tallied and presented to the School Board.

“Since the Planning Team is also going to the [City Council and School Board] with their recommendations for priorities, we wanted to be able to deliver our own set of priorities that doesn’t contradict the Planning Team’s, but complement it by adding in the critical youth voice that we have all desired,” explained Sarah Jo, a representative from Berkeley Alliance and coordinator of the Youth Initiative for the 2020 Vision Plan.

Tutashinda also said that the youth engagement sessions are “less [similar to] focus group sessions, and more [like] actually deciding and being part of the decision,” adding that an additional goal was to support youth “ownership of the document,” and to give teenagers an opportunity to “be part of the process.”

An overall goal for the Youth Initiative continues to be informing youth. “We are trying out ways to get the teen community interested and knowledgeable about the changes the are going to take place,” commented Koeppel. “It is our goal to find out what teens think about the quality of the goals set out by the adult committee and refine them if necessary.”

Tutashinda described this as “providing the youth voice.” Youth Intiative will also give the results to the School Board to enable the youth voice to be heard.

However, the amount of weight and respect given to youth input has been questioned. While Jo explained that “there has been very real support and desire from the Planning Team to have youth participation in the 2020 Vision process,” Koeppel said he has gotten a different reaction.

“I don’t feel as if the youth voice is as prominent as the adult voice in the discussions that are taking place,” he explained. “More often than not, in cases like this, the decisions are entirely adult made. In this case specifically, many of the changes being made will not affect teens directly, but for those that do, I think it is imperative that the recipients of aid and the group whose life will be affected voice their opinions on how to most effectively make a positive change.”
Despite the miscommunications between the groups, the 2020 Vision Plan has been refined and redrafted consistently and has made a great deal of progress. Many youth and youth leaders remain hopeful about the 2020 Vision Plan. “My hope is that the entire community will rally around the 2020 Vision,” explained Hanna. “Because with everyone’s commitment and support, we can create positive change.”

“It angers me that Berkeley has the highest achievement gap in the state when it is thought largely to be one of the most integrated and diverse places in the country,” Koeppel said. “But if we pull this off, we could be a model for cities around the globe on how to coexist.” The next community forum hosted by JYCA on Monday, March 22, will allow the youth and adult population alike to continue to come up with ways to close the achievement gap at Berkeley High School.