Raise Your Voice!

Credit Hamza Aden

Young people are among the least likely to vote. This November, Americans will decide the makeup of the next Congress, and the results could change the course of the nation, or solidify the conservative direction of the country. 

Polls predict that anywhere from 28 to 56 percent of eligible voters under 24 will vote, and their involvement could be key for either Republicans or Democrats.

We want to know what young people think about the upcoming elections and issues today. 

And we've got a few questions that might get you going:

Does voting matter? 

Why don’t young people vote - and what could we do to increase youth engagement at the polls?

Is there an issue that would get you to vote?

What issues should we all care about?

Do you feel like political candidates are speaking to people your age?

Should voting be opened to people even younger than 18? 

How would you get more young people to vote?

We’re looking for your ideas on these issue. Write, shoot video, record and edit audio interviews, nearly anything goes. Pick one or more of these ideas and get rolling. We want to hear from you!

Raise Your Voice! is Maine Public's platform for ideas and perspectives from students and teachers. We reach a broad audience interested in education and supporting young people.

To get started, contact Dave Boardman, our education program coordinator at dboardman@mainepublic.org or call or text him at 207-423-6934.

Credit Photo by imgix on Unsplash

And if you're a teacher and interested in working Raise Your Voice into your curriculum, reach out. We'd love to talk about ways to connect your students with our audiences.

Part of The Maine Education Project and funded by The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, Raise Your Voice! provides a forum for students and educators to share what it means to teach and learn in today's world.

Click the headline of each story to read the full text.

If there were one thing I was not prepared for when I signed up to lead a school safety walkout for March 14th, it was the amount of pushback I received while planning. There were days it felt as if I was standing in a room full of people, all wearing headphones, screaming, "You don’t want to die here either, right?" with little-to-no effect. Many, even my friends, couldn’t understand the point of a walkout. Some students didn’t want to side with the gun-haters. Many didn’t like the phrase, “gun control.”

I live in a very politically divided place. In my small, rural Maine town, you can guess just by looking at a classroom full of kids who owns a gun, whose family makes more than $30,000 a year, who is planning on going to college. There are few secrets when it comes to political leanings, and gun control is a particularly heated issue because of this. I had no idea how hard it would be to be a leader of these students, or how hard it would be to rally people for a cause that seems so obvious.

Most killers you hear about on the news, or you see on the covers of magazines, but not mental illness.

Millions of people are affected by depression, anxiety, substance addiction, and more. And sadly, sometimes mental illness can end in suicide. It is hard to diagnose many mental illnesses, especially in teens. Many things can cause mental health issues, and for young people that are affected by mental illness, schools should be taking a much larger role in educating youth on their mental health and how to take care of it. Mental illness is too big of a problem for people to ignore. 

Ready for College? Senior Doubts Proficiency Helped

May 3, 2018

I started going to school in Richmond in sixth grade, and in my first year there, they changed the grading system to standards-based.

For the first year, the new passing grade was 2.5 out of 4.0, but the next year they changed the passing grade to 3.0. A score under a 3.0 meant you weren’t proficient in that topic, and you could not pass without the teacher’s help. 

When they raised the passing grade, some people had to finish work from the previous year that only had a 2.5 because it wasn’t passing anymore, and that was when I started to dislike the new grading system.

The vision of the ideal college applicant grows in complexity every year.  It’s no longer just about your grades. It’s about your grades, your extracurriculars, and what kind of person you are. Many colleges, especially the most selective ones, have instituted the holistic admission process. 

Holistic admissions means that the college or university looks at the applicant as a whole as opposed to just bits and pieces. Although every admissions counselor will agree that your transcript is the most important part of your application, this is simply just the foot-in-the-door. The cold truth is that everyone has good grades and test scores if you are applying to a selective school. You have to distinguish yourself with your extracurriculars, community service, and most importantly, your character. 

Finding a Voice Offers a Path for Improving School Safety

Apr 18, 2018

It’s been about two months since the shooting in Parkland. As a student, I’ve been asked how I feel by well-meaning administrators and teachers, family friends, strangers and most often, my friends, as they try to hide how afraid they are now. In the lunchroom, we talk about bulletproof windows, our safety at marches, and lockdown procedure. I tried to find something, anything, to say to comfort my friends.  But I didn’t believe any reassurances myself. I tried to write something for Raise Your Voice. But I was too afraid. I couldn’t process what had happened. Whatever I said felt like it didn’t do justice to the gravity of 17 people, and a generation impacted. 

I had the privilege of being able to avoid thinking about what happened. But that’s exactly what it is, a privilege. Not everyone has it. There are kids who were at Parkland or any one of the other school shootings in our country. There are kids who have to fear gun violence in their communities or from the police, a status disproportionately affected by socioeconomic standing and racial tensions. 

We know how it feels to huddle on the floor and fight against wondering what’s outside. School shootings are real for us, in a way they weren’t for our parents or grandparents when they were in school. This is a shared experience of our generation. My school had an unscheduled lockdown very recently following the shooting. We’ve had drills and mistakes before. This was a false alarm. But it was different. Everyone in that room was completely silent. I can’t forget crouching there in the dark, and knowing this was how it felt. This is how it starts. 

Student-Centered Means Students Need to Be Heard

Apr 16, 2018

High school: "You failed.”

Going to bed at 1:00 am, waking up at 6:00 a.m. The test sits on our desk, and our minds go blank. Four or more hours making flash cards, looking at our notes, memorizing it all just for our minds to shut off. The bell rings and we look down to only see a couple questions answered. 

The next day we go to class and our teacher sits us down to talk. They’re disappointed: “Why didn’t you study? You failed the test. I thought you were better than this.” 

Over and over again we think of the word "failure," but never did our teacher ask how many hours we studied. They never listen when we say, “I really did study. My mind just goes blank when I look at my test.” They only seem to show interest in the way we learn when the grade is above average. 

Video: Want to Keep Youth in Maine? Try Building the Arts

Apr 14, 2018

How does a community retain its younger population and engage them in its future? The central Maine city of Waterville is one place where nonprofits, local leaders, and educators are working to help young people build a path to their future through the arts.

We’re three Mid-Maine Technical Center students enrolled in the Mass Media Communications program, and we took a look at this issue for a documentary we produced for the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs as part of their Making It Work series.

School is All About Looking for the Teachable Moments

Apr 9, 2018

As many know, life is full of constant twists and turns, ups and downs, and always has something to throw our way. Like the theme of a story, people are constantly learning lessons about life.

Within the school environment students are living and learning in their own ways, taking away something that will most likely last forever. A student may learn that friendships will come and go, or that arguing may not be worth it in the long run and keeping their mouth shut is the better path to take. Whatever it may be, students are constantly seeing situations that bring out teachable moments in any ordinary school day. 

Breanna Beaulieu, a sophomore from Fort Kent Community High School, has learned over the years  to be a leader and not a follower.

She says, “There’s a lot of cliques and groups, some being good, but most not quite. Some kids feel the need to be popular, and they feel like they have to hang out with the “cool” people not always making the right decisions. Being in these groups leaves people like me to feel like we’re pressured into changing ourselves, instead of embracing our own individual selves.” Bre says that people need to be the leader of their own way and not follow the ways of other people. Her message would be to follow your own path, lead the way, and don’t follow the crowd. 

Trophies for All Won’t Make Everyone a Winner

Mar 26, 2018

Writer Ashley Merryman’s article, "Losing is Good for You," published by The New York Times in 2013, challenged a popular trend. She argues against giving out trophies to children who participate in sports, and questions whether it is a good idea to give everyone on the team a trophy regardless of their accomplishments or athletic ability.

It’s a common practice, and in her article she mentions the American Youth Soccer Organization in Southern California, a group that gave trophies to every player just for being a member of the team. Merryman points out that children respond well when they are praised for their accomplishments, and will try harder; but on the other hand, those who know they will be rewarded regardless of their effort do not learn problem solving skills. 

Merryman adds that those who struggle will not try harder because they know they will be rewarded anyway, and those who do well may feel cheated that they are not getting special recognition. She believes that the long-term effects are harmful because children will grow up thinking that they just have to show up and not put in any effort. Her conclusion is, “Our job is to help kids overcome setbacks, to help them see that progress over time is more important than a particular win or loss and to help them graciously congratulate the child who succeeded when they failed.” 

Youth Mobilization Could Carve a United Front in Politics

Mar 19, 2018

Maine is a swing state; this means I live in a “swing” city and go to a “swing” school. My classmates come from rural and urban areas, and the sociopolitical views held and expressed range widely on every spectrum. This is a trait I believe necessary for the continuation of human social evolution. Like the necessity of biodiversity and mutations in science, differing opinions, philosophies, and ways of thinking are the driving force of our progression as a society and race.

However, when it comes to expressing our views, the tendencies we have tend to follow two trends: either points of views go unheard as conversations are hindered, or discussions lean more towards arguments with two iron-willed sides. These are both issues that threaten to obstruct any potential for meaningful conversations that are necessary for our growth and seem to create a toxic and divisive atmosphere for youth.

What a Teacher Knows Keeps Children Learning

Mar 14, 2018

In my desk drawer there are snacks. There are over 250 books on my shelves, and wooden letters on the windowsill that are supposed to say “READ” and “TEACH” but often say “THE CAT,” “KITTEN,” or if someone is feeling really snarky, “CHEAT.”

I coined ‘High Five Friday’ in November after, at the bell one Friday morning, a student came to my desk and asked for “one good one” to take with her before she left. Sometimes their hands and arms are so tangled around books and binders I might get an elbow, a foot, or yes, at times a forehead -- but everyone gets a high five from me -- a hand to guide them through the weekend. 

America Needs a Change to End Mass Killings

Mar 11, 2018

I can confidently say that, whether you stand with the left, right, both, or neither, we need a change in this country, and we need to not let school shootings and people dying become the norm from here on out.

Though I can see the argument from each side of the dispute, I believe we need firm gun control and much more in-depth mental health and background checks. At the same time, I believe people do have a place to their 2nd Amendment rights, and that just taking guns away completely would abolish part of the idea of what freedom is in America.

Unfortunately in this subject, there is no real right or wrong answer. There’re people who have their own beliefs, and that’s just a part of human nature. Except now, people’s lives are being lost because of faulty systems and loose laws, causing loopholes for someone to get a firearm when they lack the real mental capabilities to properly use it. In my opinion, no one in any country has a need for an AR-15, or any gun that nears having the same semi-automatic to automatic capabilities of one.

Understand, I am always trying to figure out why people care so much about their guns.

I think back to an evening in a rural Pennsylvania college town, our AirBnb scattered with take-out Chinese that tasted like nothing except MSG. My friend’s dad had a fear of silence in the house; the news was always on or he was always talking or both.

When he would wake up at 5 a.m., we’d hear CNN blaring through the thin doors, the same morning announcers’ privilege-driven voices repeating the same two words over again: Parkland Shooting.

Students Can't End School Shootings Without Help

Mar 6, 2018

There have been enough school shootings in America to understand there is a gun violence issue in this country. We’ve all heard the stories and seen the headlines. School shootings have taken over the media. How many tragedies have to happen before a lesson is learned and changes are made? School is supposed to be a safe and positive learning environment. 

Lately there has been a growing eruption of conversation around gun control. I was having a conversation with my teacher after the Parkland shooting and she asked me “What are some things we can do as a community to prevent school shootings before they happen?” That was when I realized the answer is not something that can be defined by our community alone.

Every school has steps to take in order to be the most positive and safe institution as possible for students to learn and grow. Although a good community is the first step in ending school violence, without proper gun control the problem would still persist. 

What Do We Learn From The Consequences of Failure?

Mar 6, 2018

I asked a handful of people on the street to answer a quick question: “Can discomfort and failure be used as learning tools?” Generally their answer was yes, and focused heavily on failure; discomfort was merely its side effect. This got me thinking about a few things: Do most people know that failure is a positive thing? If so, why is it still so hard as a society, and as an individual, to accept failure?

Is discomfort giving us a negative outlook on failure? I’m conflicted about this assumption, but I think others are too. Discomfort, being an unpleasant emotion, is hard to handle when it arises. But if we were to fail without it, would we have the incentive to learn from what we did wrong?

Personally, my recovery and growth that stems from failure is because of my desire to not fail like that again. And even though I know that we need to fail, I still don’t want to. I want to avoid those negative emotions. What if we were to embrace discomfort, similar to how we should be embracing failure? If it were to become an expected tool to help identify flaws, would that remedy that initial rejection of failure? Even if it did fix the failure dilemma, how do we embrace discomfort, how are we to be “comfortable” with discomfort?