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State, local representatives chat about politics at youth forum

  • MASS

  • RENAUD

  • Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg participates in the 14th annual Youth Community Forum at the Four Rivers Charter School in Greenfield, Friday afternoon. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon

  • Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg participates in the 14th annual Youth Community Forum at the Four Rivers Charter School in Greenfield, Friday afternoon. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon



Recorder Staff
Friday, October 20, 2017

GREENFIELD — Leg crossed, one over the other, he adjusted one of his socks. He then leaned into the conversation, listening to the handful of students, who had gathered around in the school cafeteria, noshing on pizza and chatting politics.

Then the Massachusetts Senate President chimed in.

“You want to make sure that you’re getting the truth. The truth is the basis of any decisions you’re making,” Stan Rosenberg said.

It was an afternoon of informal political dialogue, where a couple dozen students gathered at the Four Rivers Charter School in Greenfield for the 14th annual Youth Legislative Forum, hosted by DIAL/SELF Youth and Community Services.

For Rosenberg, it was another year of opportunity to hear from some of the children in his district, not just on specific issues — which some people had very pointed questions about — but also just to have a casual conversation with an elected official.

“We should be listening to people of all ages, even those who are not of age to vote,” Rosenberg said after the afternoon at Four Rivers.

It was a day where in the morning it seemed unlikely that Rosenberg, who was a bit under the weather, would show up. But it’s an event that the organizers say, and the Senate President reinforced, is very important to him.

Joining Rosenberg at the forum were staff assistants for local representatives, Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, and Paul Mark, D-Peru.

Three town councilors also came to speak with the students, where mostly high school-age students sat in small circles with at least one elected official per rotation. Representing the Greenfield Town Council was Vice President Isaac Mass and at-large councilors Karen “Rudy” Renaud and Penny Ricketts.

“Any time we can do civic education, that is a valuable thing to do,” Mass said afterward.

During the rounds of conversations with students he asked them to try to understand why certain things work the way they do and if they would be willing to sacrifice one thing for another, like when a student asked how could they have more life skills classes, like to learn how to cash a check or cook.

Students had a chance to learn the juggling act that town councilors have to do on the local side with particulars like a budget, but also how a local senator’s work affects them at the national level.

“If all they do is read the news, they might feel powerless and depressed at the state of the world,” Four Rivers Principal Peter Garbus said. “But if they can realize that government decisions depend on citizens voice and voter engagement and if they understand how those decisions are made, they may feel hopeful and agencies and a part of the solution.”

Councilors heard a range of topics in their small groups, too, from what can the town do to stop climate change to what can be done about the opioid epidemic.

Except when the questions came from the students in these small group settings, they weren’t necessarily big questions, looking for big, sweeping answers.

Some of the questions came from problems that hit home, even within the walls of the school. A couple seniors at the charter school spoke about the issues they see locally among teens their ages with drugs, including heroin. They asked for more education in the schools on the issue and how the drugs can affect you. In Renaud’s circle, she heard them and later spoke about how it left a lasting impression on her.

“We need to have more of these (forums),” Renaud said.