The high school graduation exam, the Pledge of Allegiance and a crowded high school were among the concerns Juneau-Douglas High School students voiced to Juneau School Board candidates at a forum Monday.
Students from social studies classes circulated through the JDHS commons all morning, asking questions of city assembly and school board candidates and advocates for and against ballot propositions.
Few of the students are voting age, but some said the forum was worthwhile.
"Regardless of whether you're old enough to vote," said senior Vince Allen, 17, "the students' points of view are valid because they're the ones who are in the system year-round."
Senior Jessica Page is just a few weeks short of voting age. She thought the forum was "a good opening to the world of politics to a lot of kids."
Laury Scandling, who teaches in the CHOICE program for sophomores and juniors who are at risk of dropping out, has organized the forum for six years. Her students also study the city ballot and hold a mock vote in class with a real election booth, write advocacy letters to the editor and give short speeches in class, do exit interviews at the real polls on Election Day, and simulate an assembly meeting in the real chambers. Some students also prepare informational brochures about city services.
"At the beginning, they don't know who the mayor is. They don't know what a charter is," Scandling said. But after the unit, "they'll be very well informed when they go to the polls."
Scandling said about 18 students at the forum registered to vote.
Page was one of the students who peppered school board candidates Dan Peterson and Chuck Cohen with questions. Candidate John Greeley had left earlier in the morning for another engagement, and Alan Schorr said business interests precluded his attending the forum.
Page asked what would alleviate overcrowding at JDHS, what distinguished the candidates from each other and if there should be bear safety classes at school.
"I think a lot of their thoughts seemed to be the same. None of them came out with a distinct idea," she said afterward.
One student was concerned a proposed new high school in Dimond Park, which awaits some state funding, wouldn't be well-staffed by the school district. Another asked why the high school didn't offer hot lunches.
Students asked about the new state law requiring schools to offer students an opportunity to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. One student was concerned it included the phrase "one nation under God." Allen, the senior, wanted to be sure students who recite the pledge are respected by nonparticipants.
Students also brought up the new high school graduation exam, a three-part test students must pass to get a diploma. The first test was given last March to sophomores and at least half the students in Juneau and statewide will have to retake part of the test.
"The idea is to make sure we're giving students the quality education they deserve. So I think that will do quite a bit of good," candidate Peterson said of the test.
Cohen said the graduation test is a good way to measure the school system as well as students.
Finally, a student asked if school board members get paid.
"Three hundred dollars a month," Cohen said, "which works out to about $2.50 an hour."