LocationAlhambra , CA United States
The voting age in America is typically 18 years old, but a group of high school students in the Alhambra Unified School District wants to change that.
These students, from Alhambra, Mark Keppel and San Gabriel High School, are launching the Vote at 16 – SGV campaign. This would allow students who are at least 16 years old to vote in the district’s Board of Education elections.
The goal is to give students more of a voice in their school communities. “We see issues in the Alhambra Unified School District that they haven’t addressed, even though students have been actively voicing these issues,” said Eileen Ong, 17, who is a senior at San Gabriel High School.
Civic engagement is also important to the students, especially given the two school board elections and three city elections happening in November this year.
“Research that’s been done before says that students who vote early, vote more later on and personally, I think voting is a really important thing,” said Anthony Hu, 17, who is a senior at Alhambra High School. “That’s one of the main reasons why I joined the campaign, just because I wanted to see more of civic engagement, especially in Alhambra.”
Vote at 16 – SGV came out of the work that Scott Chan, the program director for Asian Pacific Islander Forward Movement, was doing with Mark Keppel students around environmental health issues. After observing consistent difficulties that students had in working with administrators, Chan convened a civic engagement summit that brought in students from throughout the district.
He suggested a Vote at 16 campaign, which his colleagues had told him about. The City of Berkeley adopted a similar measure in 2016.
“The students took it and ran with it,” Chan said, adding that around 30 students have been actively involved. “Over the last year, they have been meeting weekly to plan and discuss how to make this happen in their school district.”
The students spent the summer attending community events, like the Alhambra Police Department’s National Night Out, to introduce the idea to residents and elected officials. They’re also planning to address the Board of Education at meetings and are organizing a school board debate and mock election for September.
When asked about specific issues that Vote at 16 might address, students described a dynamic where communication was lacking and rules weren’t laid out transparently. This has affected everything from student fundraising for their clubs to how many advanced placement classes they can take. Hu in particular brought up the fact that some of the schools don’t have PA systems, making communication difficult and even raising safety concerns.
Fundraising requests are usually approved by the associated student body and the assistant principal of business and activities, as long as they don’t conflict with other fundraising or food and nutrition regulations, Alhambra Unified School District Spokesperson Toby Gilbert said. She added that PA systems were also on the district’s wish list, but would cost $7.4 million for the system itself and for retrofitting the buildings.
For AP classes, Gilbert cited district concerns over students’ mental health, should they take on too many of these subjects, adding that logistical difficulties occur if the student drops the class during the school year. She also explained that AP classes are scheduled based on student requests, which schools do their best to honor, but might not be able to, for example, if they can’t find a qualified teacher to take on the class.
“We very much want to students to have a voice, and we have avenues to do it,” Gilbert said. She encouraged students to reach out to their associated student body representatives and to their administrators like Alhambra High School Principal Duane Russell.
“Not only am I resource, but our whole team of administrators at AHS is a resource and we want to know what you are thinking, what’s is going well and what concerns you may have,” Russell said in a statement.
Current elected officials are reserving judgment until they hear more details about the proposal. “I want to hear about it, the reasons behind it,” said Robert Gin, currently school board vice president who is running for reelection this year for the 4th district.
The Board of Education’s 5th District candidate, Bobbi Bruesch, pronounced this a good idea if students were well-informed. “I would like to have something in that resolution after implementing a voter education methodology or class,” Bruesch said.
“In concept, it’s an interesting and positive idea,” Alhambra Mayor Jeff Maloney said. “Voting rates are dismal and this could get people in earlier.” He added, however, that such a proposal would need the support of the Board of Education and that he would support whatever their views were.
Updated on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018 to clarify Jeff Maloney’s comments.