The News of The Blake School Since 1916

The Spectrum

The News of The Blake School Since 1916

The Spectrum

The News of The Blake School Since 1916

The Spectrum

Minneapolis


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Government in Action

Future voters engage civically
Left%3A+Agrawal%2C+bottom+right+corner%2C+learns+from+Dan+Wolgamott+%28DFL+14B%29+in+the+High+School+Page+program+at+the+Capitol%2C+which+she+described+as+%E2%80%9Can+experience+like+no+other.%E2%80%9D+Right%3A+Organized+by+Cheryl+Youakim+%28DFL+46B%29%2C+Zacks+and+two+other+students%2C+Stella+McHugh+and+Belle+Lapos+from+Stillwater%E2%80%99s+student+newspaper+Pony+Express%2C+testified+in+support+of+the+New+Voices+Bill.
Left: Submitted by Agrawal, right: Submitted by Zacks
Left: Agrawal, bottom right corner, learns from Dan Wolgamott (DFL 14B) in the High School Page program at the Capitol, which she described as “an experience like no other.” Right: Organized by Cheryl Youakim (DFL 46B), Zacks and two other students, Stella McHugh and Belle Lapos from Stillwater’s student newspaper Pony Express, testified in support of the New Voices Bill.

Students visited the Minnesota State Capitol in February for many different causes, and they promoted various causes ranging from freedom of speech to health. From participating in marches to testifying in House and Senate sessions, the voices of students who care about issues that impact not only them but the wider Minnesota community rose up. Yoni Zacks ‘25 testified in the Minnesota House and Senate on March 13, where he provided support for the New Voices bill. 

Inspired by the New Voices organization that promotes and protects student journalists’ First Amendment rights to free speech, the New Voices bill was co-sponsored by four members of the Minnesota House. Zacks connected with one of the  main sponsors, Cheryl Youakim (DFL 46B), and was asked to testify in support of the bill. “I had originally only been writing a letter of support but there ended up being room for an extra student to testify,” Zacks said. “I came up with this theme of having the obligation to tell stories and doing so without the fear of repercussion.” 

Because Blake is a private school, the New Voices bill does not cover the institution, but Zacks emphasized the importance of all student journalists having the right for free press. “There’s a lot of self-censorship within newspapers,” Zacks said. “Not all of the censorship issues are from the administration; a lot of it is from the students themselves.” Fear of the consequences from teachers, administration, or peers prevents many students from expressing their ideas, but activism is a sure way of getting student voices into the public. 

Zacks continued, “By getting this bill passed, it will show that we can’t be afraid of these repercussions. And although the bill only affects public schools… my hope is that we can show Blake that this is being done at public schools and have conversations about the same thing being done here.” 

 Student organizations also play a role in sharing and amplifying the opinions of youth. Ahan Devgun ‘24 and Samantha Singh ‘25 participated in a march to the Capitol that called for the banning of flavored tobacco products. According to an article by MPR, on March 5, students attended a rally and spoke with representatives about a bill that would ban flavored tobacco products to prevent vaping addictions in teenagers.

Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Devgun and Singh volunteer with the MyHealth organization which educates and advocates for adolescent physical and mental health. However, Singh explained that their activities at the Capitol were separate from MyHealth, even though many MyHealth volunteers participated in the rally. “It was an advocacy event where youth that were passionate about e-cigarette prevention would go and promote [the bill],” Singh said. 

As Singh and Devgun advocated for the bill, they had the opportunity to interact with government officials. “I spoke with three representatives. I live in Plymouth so I spoke with representatives local to that area. I spoke with Rep. Ginny Klevorn, Rep. Ned Carroll, and a senator,” Singh said. “It really opened avenues who did not have prior advocacy experience.” No concrete action has been taken on the bill outside of House hearings as of yet, but, as vapes and other flavored tobacco products are often used by teenagers, it is the younger students who have begun to voice their desire for change. “We wanted to make these representatives see the particular issues that youth are facing,” Singh explained.

Education about the government can be just as vital for students as participating in activism. Anya Agrawal ‘25 took part in the High School Page Program, a week-long event at the end of February in which students from all over Minnesota met with state representatives, discussed current issues, and learned about government processes like debate and passing bills. 

Agrawal explained how she did not know much about the government before this experience. “I think I learned a lot about how the state government works and the detail about the process,” Agrawal said. “You really don’t need any background information or knowledge. You can go in and just learn.” 

Bringing students from many different communities together to learn about the government encourages activism, particularly because understanding how local and state governments function can be an important first step in being willing to play a role in the processes. 

Agrawal described a multitude of activities during her week at the Capitol. “We got to listen on oral arguments, we got to assist representatives on the floor basically like a page. If lobbyists came in with notes, we would go pass them out, and we would also distribute documents and bills before sessions started. It was really a great experience to have exposure on how these things work in addition to having one-on-one conversations with our own representatives.” 

As high school students begin to become more aware of current issues in their communities through social media, an education about civics and the government provides a stepping stone into activism. “We’re the future leaders of this country; we really need to be involved in the government as much as possible,” Zacks said. “The younger we can start that, the more positive memories we will associate with that.” 

Similarly, Agrawal argues that engaging with issues that span communities that are larger than Blake is eye-opening. “I got to communicate with new people and hear their points of view,” she said. “it was great to meet new students and talk to them about what they felt was going in their schools and what they thought about their communities.” 

Singh shared her own activism experience, and highlighted the power of student voices, even without a major role in government decision-making. Singh said, “It’s incredibly important that not only people who vote, but also students, young people are heard.” 

Zacks will be traveling to Washington, D.C. this June to represent the state of Minnesota as a Free Spirit Scholar at the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference. He will speak with students from every state and professional journalists in a week-long conference. Zacks said, “It’s important to be civically active and this was my way.”

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About the Contributor
Evan Vezmar
Evan Vezmar, Editor Emeritus
Hi, my name is Evan Vezmar, and I'm a senior. I began writing for Spectrum in my freshman year as a staff writer and became an editor in 10th grade. Last semester, I was a Managing Editor and the Opinions Editor. My favorite part of Spectrum is being able to give a voice to people who may not be able to through the news. In my free time, I like to read, play the piano, and fence.

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