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Colorado students show lawmakers their policy chops

Students presenting to state representatives as part of the Colorado Youth Advisory Council.
Students presenting to state representatives as part of the Colorado Youth Advisory Council.
J. Zubrzycki

Joshua May of Grand Junction had the attention of a dozen state legislators. They had heard the series of water policy recommendations he and his colleagues came to share, and now it was time to bring the point home.

“I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a really big statistics guy. I don’t like doing anything without the numbers to back it up,” May said.

“Of the top ten states that are fastest-growing, four of them rely on the Colorado River for their water,” he said. “For us to consider living in a future Colorado, we want to make sure it is growing, but that it’s growing sustainably.”

Do you ever wonder whether teenagers care about public policy? Josh is a junior in high school.

His colleagues were a group of teenagers from across the state who are participating in the Colorado Youth Advisory Council, created by the state in 2008. Students apply to participate in the council, and remain members for two years.

The advisory council’s 40 members gathered at the capitol building in Denver Monday to present a set of recommendations about water policy, mental health, K-12 testing, and public safety.

The teens had been working on the proposals for months before their trip to Denver, first identifying their concerns, researching and surveying their peers, and developing a set of recommendations.

The education policy group zeroed in on an issue that has been a hot topic across the state: Standardized testing.

Students surveyed their peers and found, among other things, that just 3 percent felt standardized tests benefitted them. They also found that more than half of their fellow students would rather take paper-and-pencil tests than online exams.

The students recommended that the PARCC test and any consequences based on its results be postponed, and that the state provide paper tests, especially to schools in rural areas.

The issue was close to home: Most of the students are either in the middle of their standardized testing or just finished one round.

East High School student Adina Glickstein said that the students wanted to make clear to the legislators that their recommendations are nonpartisan. “We’re students, and this affects us.”

The legislators pushed the students on their presentations: After the water policy team spoke, several lawmakers expressed skepticism about the impact rainwater collection would have on the state’s rivers and streams. During the education section, the students had to cut off questions from interested legislators.

Legislators commended the students for their work. The final question of the day from the panel of legislators: “Would you like to take our seats?”

Student Matthew Barad, from Colorado Springs, said he had at least one concrete piece of evidence that the legislators were paying attention. “I have three business cards in my wallet of people who want to talk more about education,” he said.

Below, watch two East High School students describe the testing policy recommendations they presented to the state legislators.

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