Vilseck students travel to D.C. to advocate for military children
April 25, 2011
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany, April 25, 2011 -- Most high school students have had to sit through a U.S. Government class. Some have even been a part of a mock congress.
But, not many can say that they had a chance to present their own advocacy issues to a general, the Department of Defense Education Activity director, congressional staffers and the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.
That's exactly what Vilesck High School students 12th-grader Thea Dunn and 9th-grader Meraleigh Randle did in Washington, D.C., during the National Parent Teacher Association's Legislative Conference, March 9-11, 2011. Dunn and Randle attended the conference as student representatives of the European PTA, or EPTA.
During the conference, each delegation is expected to visit their state senators and Congressional representatives. EPTA is in the unique position of having all 50 states represent their membership comprised of military families.
So, the EPTA decided to go one step further and visit, not only senators and representatives, but also the SASC and HASC staff, Marilee Fitzgerald, the DODEA acting director and Maj. Gen. Reuben Jones, the Installation Management Command Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation commander.
According to EPTA president, Shannon Sevier, "PTA is the largest child advocacy organization in the nation and as such the European PTA is able to plug into National PTA advocacy efforts by pushing for parity within the Dept. of Defense funding structure, as well as employ the NPTA political infrastructure."
While it may seem daunting to discuss policy issues with high-ranking military and civilian officials, Dunn and Randle met the challenge with composure usually attributed to professional advocates. Dunn and Randle had done their homework.
"The EPTA team discussed policy initiatives and explained how federal legislation translated into DoD programming," Sevier said. "Once the schedule of Hill visits was set, the girls had to research every senator, representative, the IMCOM FMWR commander and personnel from DODEA."
Dunn and Randle were asked to come up with their own policy initiatives. And, they did not disappoint. The central theme to the students' agenda was that of increasing their viability for scholarships and opportunities for academic and sports competitions. The EPTA delegation also discussed increasing parent involvement in the DoDDS-E schools and providing training for the parents, and teachers of military children.
The girls were glad to put their experiences into their own words.
"This trip was the first one that I have been on where I packed the day before and not the morning of. Getting ready to go, I honestly had no idea what to expect as the European PTA Youth Institute nominee," she explained. "I soon found out during the first meeting with DODEA acting director, Marilee Fitzgerald and communications director, Frank O'Gara. In both meetings I felt my voice was truly heard and that my suggestions were taken into consideration."
"After that meeting my confidence level skyrocketed," she continued. "After researching the people we were going to be meeting and preparing our issues, the day came to load up the bus to Capitol Hill. The Hill visits were an eye-opener and the experience was just incredible. I kept my camera ready the whole time."
"My advanced placement government class had an interest group simulation as one of our projects this year, so we were learning about the lobbying process. It was amazing to be able to actually go out and do it," she said.
"This trip really showed me how just a couple of people with a vision can make things happen. I will take this experience with me for the rest of my life. I was very inspired and excited to be a part of something so important. It really showed me that anything can happen, even when you start from the ground up," she concluded.
IN MERALEIGH'S WORDS
"It was my first time at the Capitol building and all I could think was that the shopping mall was cool, but this is awesome," she said. "The visit to Washington D.C., was something I was not all that sure I was ready for, but I knew I was going to try to bring attention to two issues that many military kids have."
"Many student athletes are extremely talented and would place very highly if they competed nationally, but being overseas makes it very hard to raise enough funds to fly the student to the national competition, house and feed them," she explained.
"The other issue is that freshman and sophomores who take the combined history and literature honors class, take a larger work load than their peers who take the standard classes and do not have their grade weighted," she said. "Having this class weighted (more heavily) would bring these students' grade point averages up."
"I am so glad I got to attend the NPTA conference because it helped me realize how big PTA is and how big of an impact we can make. I was surrounded by everyday people who were determined to make a change," she said.
"Being a part of that not only opened my eyes but made me want to push for change and get people's attention to matters that military kids think are important," she explained. "The week I spent in Washington, D.C., showed me that anyone can be an advocate, no matter their age. We all have the power to speak and be heard and to better our situation."
"As a student representative, I am happy that I am able to help push for change," she explained. "As a child advocate I am proud to say that I am helping to better the situation of military kids overseas, and as a young adult I take with me skills and experiences I will use and look back on so I can become a better representative and advocate of students just like me."