Raise Your Voice!

Credit Hamza Aden

We want to know what matters to young people today. We've all got an issue, a belief, an idea that drives us forward, something that really matters. Raise Your Voice! is Maine Public's online platform for ideas and perspectives from students across the state. We reach a broad audience interested in education, supporting young people, and especially, in hearing what today's youth have to say.

Specializing Earlier Would Ease College Burden

Sep 17, 2017

A lot of people say that college costs a lot, and it’s true for many schools. It costs a lot, and it’s the reason for the student debt problem in the U.S. College students go into debt because they have to pay money for school, and don’t have enough money. There might be some solutions to this problem, rather than just watching as the debt rises.

Here’s the problem: college costs so much that it leaves many students in deep debt; the average 2016 college graduate owed $37,172. That’s up more than 5 percent from last year, and debt is rising alarmingly. High college prices can leave students worried about their future, or discouraged from going to college.

I’m already worried about owing lots of money after college. There’s a definite problem with this higher education system. Money for college is a big barrier for some who want to realize their dreams; a high school diploma can’t get you every job. There’s also an ever-widening wage gap in America, and expensive education is a factor. People who graduate from high school and don’t go to college usually get lower paying jobs, and don’t have much hope of climbing up the economic ladder, earning 56 percent less than college graduates.

There are a couple of options that might be considered to fix this problem. First, high school should become entirely specialized. Students would learn everything about their jobs and how to do them in high school. There would be no need for college, so no student debt at all. High school graduates wouldn’t need to learn much else; they would go to their jobs directly from high school. There could be apprenticeships after that if more school was needed, and students could take a skills-based test to graduate from high school.

College tuition is a national crisis. More than 44.2 million Americans have over $1.44 trillion in unpaid student loans, and this number is only rising. College enrollment has risen by 138 percent over the past 40 years, as it should have. But student debt and college tuition have both risen by extreme amounts as well. And when so many Americans are thrown into debt trying to escape poverty, something needs to change

Education seems to be the only option to have a financially stable life in the United States. According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, a high school dropout on average annually makes close to $19,000, and a high school graduate makes almost $10,000 more at $28,000. Those who hold a four-year degree make more than the national average of $48,000, around $51,000 a year. Advanced degree holders on average make $75,000 annually. It seems obvious that the higher degree one holds, the higher the annual salary. It also appears to be an easy choice to make, but when people have to throw themselves into extreme debt for decades, it becomes a problem.

College is expensive. It has always been expensive, but in the past 30 years, it has become exponentially more expensive. Since 1985 the consumer price index has increased by 115 percent, whereas the college education rate has risen nearly 500 percent. To put that in perspective, the annual in-state tuition rate at Ohio State University in the 1985-86 school year was $664, according to national education statistics. In the 2017-18 school year, in-state tuition will be $10,591. The rise of tuition and inflation isn’t the only inequality either.

In-state and out-of-state tuition have extremely different price points. Student in-state tuition should be should be lower than out-of-state tuition. Students or their parents pay state taxes that help fund the school. But the inequality shouldn’t be as extreme as it is. On average out-of-state tuition costs $8,990 more than in-state, which doesn’t even include the usually necessary room and board costs. State tuition inequalities also lead to students receiving a worse education. 

Because of our heteronormative culture, and the fact that most people identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, it’s assumed that the only truly necessary lessons and resources are those specifically for straight cisgender people. Because of this, many aren’t informed on subjects others don’t have any problems with. For example, in health classes, sex ed is only taught in one context: a cisgender male and a cisgender female. 

Same sex couples are excluded from this without most people’s knowledge, and may end up having to find out in an unreliable way such as the internet. Teachers of health classes should assume that there are students in the class who are, or may someday be in, a relationship with someone of the same sex. Counselors and/or teachers should be available to students any time they have a question or need any kind of support. Pamphlets and other written resources should be placed somewhere anyone can easily find them to take and read. Schools’ Gay Straight Alliances are usually the place to get this kind of thing, but to better publicize them would be much more helpful.

Education Needs to Meet the Identity Challenge

Sep 13, 2017

Every day a myriad of labels, both old and new, are thrown into society, reaching first its most vulnerable population: its teenagers.

Through social media and word-of-mouth, the spread of these labels can create both comfort and fear in teens trying to find their place in the world. Having lived just a small fraction of their lives, they are pushed to fall into certain groups which will supposedly make them more readable by their peers. However, this means that once grouped in a certain way, kids are expected to fit into a label completely. This not only results in kids losing their individuality, but also masks the individuality they do possess.

I grew up as a first generation American in a mix of two cultures; a home environment filled with Venezuelan news and food, and a school that taught me about the American Revolution and had me standing up with my classmates and friends, right hand on my heart, left at my side.

The labels set in stone for me such as Venezuelan and Latina have been ones that both others and I have questioned. If I am a Venezuelan American, am I less Venezuelan? Am I less American? Am I really in the Latinx community if I do not look like what some people assume a “normal” Latina looks like despite the fact that it is an ethnicity, not a race?

Why Books Need a Comeback

Sep 13, 2017

When a teacher tells you that your summer reading homework is to read a list of books, what is your first reaction? Do you grumble and groan? Do you procrastinate until the last moment possible? Stop and think how terrible the world would be without books. We should feel grateful we even have books at all, yet all I hear about books is negativity. Why has reading become such a hated activity?

Movies are commonly replacing books. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies just as much as anyone. It’s an amazing thing to see a book come to life on a screen. Unfortunately, more often than not, people ignore the books and look to the film adaptations of the story.

I am a huge fan of Harry Potter and a serious advocate for reading books before watching the movies. So it pains me to hear the responses of my peers when I ask them if they have read the Harry Potter books. The most common answer is, “I haven’t read any of the books, but I’ve seen the movies.” Unfortunately, the movies don’t provide the depth the books do. All the knowledge they have about the series is from the movies. If you think that should be enough, think again. They only know the plots to a certain degree. They think they know everything about the series, but there is so much more. Watching a movie is like scuba diving. But, instead of diving downward, you only skim the surface of the water. When you are reading a book, you dive deep into the water and discover a vibrant coral reef below. In other words, much of the book is lost when they are made into movies. Books are condensed and shortened to fit into our busy lives.

What's The Real Cost of a Connected World?

Sep 9, 2017

Flowers. Trees. Rocks. Dirt. This is nature at its finest. Even in the winter, when the blanket of snow suffocates the scene, it’s gorgeous. No communication. No connection to the outside world through technology. Yes, of course it’s beautiful, but is it practical?

No, not really.

Think of your phone for a moment. Most of you have one. What would you do without it? Would you have as many friends? Would you know as much about the world? But how much trouble is it causing?

These days, it seems like there’s an ever growing war between this generation and the last over technology. Our parents argue we’re growing dumber by the day and we retort that without internet, where would we be? Society is at impasse with tension growing by the day. 

On the one hand, there are our parents. They base their fight on the grounds that the internet is compromising our intelligence. We don’t bother to think for ourselves, wonder, or focus on learning. We ignore teachings, thinking that if we need that bit of intelligence later, we can just Google it and, voila, the answer. 

There is truth to their argument. We are becoming so caught up in technology that we aren’t caring as much for the things around us. The facts support that. In the last generation, SAT scores have dropped from 1,026 to 1,002 out of 1600 throughout high schools. However, the amount of A's given out has gone up noticeably. How is it that grades and SAT scores are going in such opposite directions?

Controversy Needs No Warning for Free Discussion

Sep 9, 2017

We are known as the “swaddled generation.” A generation set apart from the ones before us as we are overly sensitive in how we act, what we say, and how we say it. We don’t want to offend anyone so we often take precautionary measures to avoid doing so. Society tells us to celebrate our differences but to be careful in what you say about them. We are often socially scolded for discussing controversial topics like political stances, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, rape, and assault. And, honestly, it’s extremely difficult to exercise the right of freedom of speech while not offending anybody with what you say in the process.

These previously listed topics are incorporated into many college and university courses as well as high school courses for open debate and discussion. Having this material that offers different opinions assimilated into coursework allows students to be engaged and learn the varying perspectives of others. What would college and high school classes be like if there were not topics that challenged your opinion? Why would we avoid learning the perspectives of others by avoiding these contentious topics?

JMG Preps for the Future

Aug 7, 2017

Growing up may be a hard fact for some to admit, but it is bound to happen. Schools are faced with the challenge of preparing students for life ahead, and they are working to make programs readily available to students for continued education or even for a job right after graduating high school. Students need to help out and do their fair share of work for setting themselves up for success.

At Fort Kent Community High School, we are offered a program known as Jobs For Maine Graduates (JMG). According to the organization’s website, “JMG partners with public education and private businesses to offer results-driven solutions to ensure all Maine students graduate, attain postsecondary credentials and pursue meaningful careers.” By taking part in this program students are able to take part in internships and actual jobs. This helps students by opening their eyes to the real world. I talked to one of my friends about this. Brody Albert, a senior from Fort Kent Community High School said he enjoys leaving school to enter the community and getting to see and do the work first hand. He enjoys working at a fast pace and to get things done and this program allows him to do that. When asked what the best thing about the program is, he stated, “The program is hands on” and that “it’s great to see what work really is over the course of the day.”

My school has been preparing students for the future since middle school. In middle school I had taken a class called Career Education. In this class we learned about the 16 career clusters and each job within each cluster. We also learned the education levels needed for each career and what skills and experience may be required. There was a career cluster breakfast for the 7th and 8th grade students last school year in 2016.

Motivated Students Need the Space to Excel

Jul 4, 2017

Take a look through the classrooms of nearly any high school. Chances are, you’ll find some students who are highly engaged, and others, writer Adlai Nelson notes, staring into space, bored, disengaged, and uninterested in the challenge before them.

“Not everyone is ready, or willing, to learn at the same level,” he says. Adlai suggests that honors classes should “not be encouraged for everyone to ensure that students who do not want to take part in them do not end up in them.”

He proposes setting up class enrollments based on who really wants to be there. His podcast shares his ideas, and a simple solution for creating the kind of classroom atmosphere for students who want to excel.

Adlai Nelson is a sophomore at Lincoln Academy and lives in Newcastle.

Learning Inclusion Could Be a 'Teachable Moment"

Jul 3, 2017

Writer Ellie Mathews has some strong advice for schools: work on the first-year transition.

Coming together is a big step for most young people, and they need some guidance, Ellie argues.

In schools, social dynamics are often overlooked by adults, and at times, young people need help forming bonds. Teachers could lead the way to help everyone feel like they belong to the community, says Ellie.

“I think addressing this problem means addressing exclusion and inclusion. That’s hard, because teachers can’t really enforce their students’ ‘kindness,’ but we can’t keep letting exclusion go on,” she says.

Ellie’s podcast gives her solution to this problem that has challenged schools for years.

Ellie Mathews is a sophomore at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle.

Diverse Cultures Boost Learning Experience

Jul 3, 2017

At Lincoln Academy, a residential program brings students from 19 different countries to this small campus in Newcastle, giving Maine students a chance to interact with young people from around the world as part of their education.

Sophomore Grace Canny has learned about the benefits of learning in a community with both American and international students, from the chance to hear about life in another part of the world to the opportunity to experience diverse cultures.

“If anything, this year has taught me that we all have something in common to bond over, whether it’s disdain for a certain school subject, or the love of a favorite sport. I have made friends who I never would have met.”

Grace explores the benefits of blending a multicultural experience with living and learning in Maine in this podcast.

Grace Canny lives in Newcastle where she attends Lincoln Academy.

Activism Gives Students Voice and Education

Jun 14, 2017

In recent years, it is safe to say there has been a rise in activism, particularly in teenage circles. Where did this rise come from? And what really is activism?

According to Merriam-Webster, activism is “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.” But when speaking to youth around the community, each had their own definition of the word.

Emma Anghel, a sophomore at Waynflete, had a simple one of her own. “It’s important. It’s your life,” she said, after speaking about her own individual reasons for becoming involved with activism. Anghel began volunteering at Planned Parenthood in early March after realizing what the organization had done for her own reproductive health. “I thought I owed them something. . . they’ve become something important to me and now I understand what they provide, having been provided by them.”

Students Weigh Proficiency Law's Effect

Apr 29, 2017

Starting in 2020, a new Maine law will require that all graduating students meet minimum levels of proficiency in their subject areas in order to receive a diploma.

This new directive will make proficiency-based learning the new normal rather than the current grading system. With the new law in place for the upcoming academic year, students will be evaluated on their performance in meeting learning targets.

As the Maine Department of Education website states, these learning targets and the subsequent proficiency-based diploma will ensure that students graduate “with a diploma that signifies they are leaving high school with the knowledge and skills needed for college and career success.”

Perhaps caused by the lack of visibility to students, what is interesting about this new initiative is the lack of student opinions. With teachers, adults, and the Maine DOE having plenty of mediums for their thoughts, students have been mostly mute on this important change. Three Waterville Senior High School sophomores, Leah Shoulta, Conrad Ayers, and Lauren Smith, all among one of the last classes to be graded based on the traditional average-based system, spoke about the new initiative.

High School Bumps Eased by Family Support

Apr 29, 2017

Transitioning into high school was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do, both academically and socially. Throughout middle school, I maintained high honors. School was never hard for me and I never had to work too hard to get the grade I wanted. I was lucky that way. Coming into high school, I knew the classes would be harder than I was used to, though high school was much different than what I anticipated it would be.

I have always been interested in extracurricular activities. At the start of school, I was already playing soccer. As always, I was able to maintain at least a B in each class pretty easily. Time management, however, was not a skill of mine. When I signed up for the school play, my grades paid the price. All of the sudden, I was out straight until eight thirty every night of the week. Right after school, I went to soccer practice. I only had a half an hour of free time between soccer practice and play rehearsal. My math grade plummeted and it took me until just a few weeks ago to pull it back up to an A, and math used to be my best subject.

Matching School, Teaching, Makes a Difference

Apr 11, 2017

Every student has specific and personal learning needs. Some students prefer one-on-one attention, some work better as a whole class. Some work better in a quiet environment, while others prefer to have it more hectic. Unlike most students, I got to choose what high school I would go to, and I picked the one with the teaching style that would best match how I learn.

I also chose Oceanside because of the friends I have made who attend this school, and because I've grown up in the RSU 13 district. In January, the eighth graders from Saint George shadowed us to determine where they wanted to go to school, and that has helped me become more aware of my own school environment.

Students who live in Saint George, my town, have a choice of five high schools: Oceanside, Camden, Watershed, Lincoln Academy, and Medomak. When the students shadowed us, they got to take a look into what freshman classes look like for us at Oceanside. Having a choice of high schools opens up to students specific creative processes, and gives them control over what and how they will be able to learn. And having someone to answer questions and introduce them to teachers was both beneficial for them and for me. I got to see what type of students they were, and they got to see what Oceanside has to offer for them to learn.