There’s nothing more telling than reality and nothing more real than high school students.
After they warmed to the challenge – and with some encouragement from City Council member Joe Duffie – about 40 articulate Foster High students spoke their minds, about life near a troubled highway, run-ins with police officers and their place in the Tukwila community.
For two hours they spoke to and with members of the Tukwila City Council and the Tukwila School Board at a Socratic Seminar organized and led by school Superintendent Nancy Coogan.
The dialogue was sometimes intense, always revealing, and at times heart-breaking.
And I couldn’t get my head around this: Last spring some members of the football team were in handcuffs and on the ground for painting the Foster rock, a time-honored tradition!
The idea behind a Socratic Seminar is to put all the cards on the table, ask questions that lead to understanding and finally come up with positive solutions.
Because this is a column, I am taking some liberties in how I tell the story of what we heard during those two hours in Andrea Gamboa’s social-studies classroom.
From here on, a Foster “every-student” will weave together the stories of his classmates and the wise counsel they offered. The Pac is Tukwila International Boulevard.
I was helping my mom the other night close up the store on the Pac. Like I always do, I took out the garbage. I learned the highway was dangerous.
A man approached me, asking for drugs. I haven’t told my mom about that, but I am more aware now when I am walking out there.
That’s not the first time I’ve been scared. I’ve seen guys with guns in their pockets. I’ve seen drug deals. I had to ask for help when I was walking by the strip club. It’s an easy way to earn money, but it’s not right.
I’ve got friends who aren’t allowed to walk on the Pac. Their parents say it’s too dangerous.
We’d all live better lives if we could just make a change in the community. Why does our environment attract these kinds of people? I worry we’ll get pulled into that lifestyle. We don’t want our intelligence to go to waste.
I wonder why the police aren’t going after the drug dealers and prostitutes, rather than me or my friends. They’re profiling us, just because we wear a hoodie or our skin is dark.
My sister was walking down the street. She was stopped by an officer. She was thrown to the ground and taken to the police department for resisting arrest. That’s happened to a lot of us.
Some of my friends tell me the cops are just doing their jobs, that we criticize them for doing their jobs.
I’ve given this a lot of thought and I have some ideas about what we can do.
I wouldn’t have to be scared or have nothing to do if we had a community center or boys or girls club nearby to hang out at. Someplace safe and off the streets. I can’t walk to the community center now because it’s too far away and I don’t have a car.
I want police officers to get to know me, to learn how to talk to me, to know the difference between the good and the bad. Maybe hire more diverse officers.
We have no one to go to, no one to talk to. Give us something to do, help us connect to people in Tukwila.
Yes, honesty is sometimes disheartening, but there is a blueprint not so hidden in their words to move forward. The students were asked to talk openly about Tukwila International Boulevard and race relations and that’s what they did.
Duffie assured them Tukwila International Boulevard and public safety is the city’s top priority.
The right people were at the seminar to make a difference, not just the city leaders, but the students themselves. That’s buy-in. More importantly, the conversation will continue about such ideas as a youth advisory council, an ombudsman and a question box where students can make their concerns known.
And Coogan continues to press ahead on a draft of a strategic plan to help guide the district, which she will present to the community early next year.