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Pols take their cue from students

  • Environmental issues were discussed at the YELO forum, Youth Engage with Legislators and Officials, at the Greenfield High School on Friday . January 11, 2019 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • Rep Paul Mark talks to youths at the YELO forum, Youth Engage with Legislators and Officials, at the Greenfield High School on Friday. Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ

  • City Councilor Otis Wheeler talks to youths at the YELO forum, Youth Engage with Legislators and Officials, at the Greenfield High School on Friday. January 11, 2019 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • City Councilor Otis Wheeler, right, talks to youths at the YELO forum, Youth Engage with Legislators and Officials, at the Greenfield High School on Friday. Below, state Sen. Jo Comerford talks with students. Recorder Staff photos/PAUL FRANZ

  • Rep. Jo Comerford listens to youths at the YELO forum, Youth Engage with Legislators and Officials, at the Greenfield High School on Friday . January 11, 2019 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • Environmental issues were discussed at the YELO forum, Youth Engage with Legislators and Officials, at the Greenfield High School on Friday . January 11, 2019 Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz



Staff Writer
Friday, January 11, 2019

GREENFIELD — High school senior Augie Seuffert looked around the full circle in the school’s library, seeing mostly his peers and politicians. He offered his reflection. 

“I came in here thinking I was going to be talked to by a bunch of politicians on issues, and they actually asked me about the issues,” Augie said. 

Sitting next to the Greenfield High School senior happened to be his mother, Precinct 6 Greenfield City Councilor Sheila Gilmour — one of the politicians gathered for an afternoon centered around youth leadership, but based on giving an opportunity to just over a dozen students to exchange ideas about political and social issues with their local and state elected officials. 

“It’s the last day of my first week, and I feel like I just got the biggest gift,” state Sen. Jo Commerford, D-Northampton, said to everyone. “We should flip the paradigm; people should talk and we should listen.” 

Joining Commerford for the couple hours at the DIAL/SELF Youth & Community Services program, with the Greenfield High School students and a handful of students from Great Falls Middle School in Turners Falls, was: state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, and Greenfield City Councilors Tim Dolan, Isaac Mass, Verne Sund, Otis Wheeler and Gilmour. Greenfield Public Schools Superintendent Jordana Harper and School Committee Chairwoman Adrienne Nunez also joined in. 

“I heard really great questions and considerations about these very complex issues and a real understanding that these issues are multi-dimensional,” Nunez said. 

Students raised topics of homelessness and affordable housing; marijuana and vaping; and the environment. 

High school senior Dionn Casanova explained in one small group some of the issues around vaping in school, likely not how a politician or a school official might try to tip-toe around the issue. 

“Adults always try to manhandle all the situations in Greenfield,” Casanova said. “That’s not how anything is going to get fixed.” 

He suggested student-led initiatives and ones that start at a younger age than high school. 

“I learned on a specific level that vaping in high schools is more of a problem than I realized, but there’s a lot of young people here that are interested in educating,” Wheeler said. 

At the core of it though was giving students things to do in town. Casanova and his classmates explained there is little to do, unlike in Hadley where there are arcades, movie theaters and a mall. 

“I was struck by the extent to which a third space is important for folks your age, not school and not home,” Dolan said. “I’d like to make that a priority,” which was greeted with the loudest round of complimentary snaps in applause to anything said in the sharing circle at the end. 

Mass, who was in the small group with Casanova, discussed the idea of teen centers with them.

He also remarked at his surprise from what he heard from the students, that the teens get allowances from their parents that end up being spent on things like vaping. 

On the topic of homelessness, Mass said he heard from the students that a town social worker to do intervention, is something that is desired. 

“That’s probably an area that there could be some cooperation from people who don’t always agree on things and maybe something we can do later on,” Mass said. 

On environment, Mark and Commerford explained to students in their small group about the way certain bills in the Legislature can help shift policy on climate change locally. 

Mark and Commerford advocated for more solar and a carbon fee rebate — “It’s basically putting a price on pollution,” Commerford said — and finding other ways to advocate for the environment on Beacon Hill. 

“If people can start thinking about environmental issues as job issues, social justice issues, so many other issues that are relevant, then maybe we can get over that hump,” Mark said. 

Harper shared that she wants to go back to one of her initial goals as superintendent: working toward a sustainability policy. She said she wants the school to be growing its own food, have a green roof, and proposed the idea of starting a student-led standing task force to say what the school district should be doing on the environment. 

“We can do a lot more, and the students are very keyed in,” Harper said. “I think you all have a much better sense of what we ought to be doing and can be doing … I think the adults need to wake up and listen to the kids.” 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:
jsolomon@recorder.com,
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.