Students ask tough questions at Thomas Jefferson High School forum

Questions focused on homelessness, school gun violence, and creating an eco-friendly city.

Students from Thomas Jefferson High School put together a political forum Oct. 24 in their school’s theater to ask Federal Way Council and school board candidates questions relevant to them.

Community members, students, school staff members and candidates packed the theater, with the noticeable absences of council candidate Tony Pagliocco, vying for Pos. 7, and school board candidates Tenya Magruder, vying for Pos. 3, and Elizabeth Carlson, Pos. 2.

Pagliocco said he could not attend because he had a family emergency, and Magruder did not respond to multiple calls and emails from the students setting up the forum. Carlson has not attended any public forums to date.

Council candidates Linda Kochmar, running for Pos. 7; Jamily Taylor, Pos. 5; Mark Koppang, incumbent for Pos. 5; Sharry Edwards, Pos. 3; and Susan Honda, incumbent for Pos. 3, were all in attendance as well as school board candidates Jennifer Jones, Pos. 2, and Luckisha Phillips, Pos. 3.

Before the forum began, Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Tammy Campbell spoke, applauding students for creating this forum.

“I want to thank the candidates who came tonight, I know our scholars are going to appreciate that … you being here says a lot about honoring the students’ perspectives as well as honoring their voice,” she said.

One of the first questions asked was directed toward the school board.

“Federal Way is the fifth most diverse school district in the country … How will you ensure that each student, regardless of native language and family income will begin school on an equitable level and be able to obtain a job and have adequate college access support?”

Jones said she was very much in support of inclusion and equity for Federal Way’s school children and would make that a focus if she was re-elected to the school board.

Phillips said equity and inclusion are important for her both as a school board candidate and a mother with children in the district.

“It’s about advocating, it’s about working with your leaders and your administrators and asking them tough questions,” she said. “It’s also work on our side, I have to do my own work around equity and inclusion to make sure I can be a good leader.”

Students also asked council candidates how they plan to address and aid those who have fallen into poverty and homelessness.

Edwards said she had served as chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness, and was able to learn a lot through that experience.

“What we identified with all of our homeless students were that a lot of families out there did not have access to shelters because in our city we only have two shelters, one is for single men and one is for single women,” she said. “We felt that was really unacceptable. Priorities should be families.”

Edwards added family shelters with wraparound services were coming to the city, which she felt was going to be extremely helpful especially to Federal Way’s homeless student population.

Taylor said in Seattle she works a lot with homeless people, and there needs to be programs in place to help bridge the gap for people close to falling into homelessness.

“Having programs like the [Stable Homes initiative]… there’s so many different reasons for homelessness,” she said.

All of the candidates agreed that homelessness was a complex issue that needed to be addressed, however they also said there was no clear-cut answer for it either.

Koppang said one of the ways the city could combat this issue is to continue making partnerships with local organizations and partnerships like the Multi-Service Center.

“We want to create solutions,” he said.

The next question asked, directed toward the school board, related to the acts of gun violence in the Federal Way community and around the nation.

“How will you keep us safe at school, especially from gun violence, drugs, and other criminal activity?”

Phillips applauded the student for asking this question, and said safety is something incredibly important to her.

“Safety is something I’m going to keep an eye on, as a school board member and a mom.”

Jones has experienced a potential active shooter on campus situation at Highline College, where she teaches, and “understands the fear that can engender.”

Another focal point for her is the new schools being built, and finding a way to ensure they will be safe for all students.

“I also want to make sure that our immigrant and refugee populations feel safe, she said. “Right now, in our community some of them are very worried about their status … I want to make sure they know they are supportive and protected.”

A student also asked council candidates to explain their ideas to make the city more eco-friendly.

Taylor thinks this process is important with families in the community.

“We need to instill in families and our culture of recycling … I know the city has a program where you can bring your documents to shred.”

Taylor taught her mother to recycle in high school and it’s still a game they play today.

Kochmar used her answer to explain how Federal Way gets its water.

“We get our water from underground aquifers,” she said. “When you are washing your car, wash it on the lawn so it filters down through the ground. You don’t want that water going into Puget Sound.”

Koppang agreed that this is a community effort, and applauded the programs the city had in place to combat this, like the document shredding event.

Honda said part of being eco-friendly was watching how Federal Way was developed and ensuring water streams were protected during that development.

Edwards said this is one of her favorite subjects, and thinks mother nature is giving Federal Way a huge warning sign. She cited the program the district does every year raising and then releasing salmon into the Hylebos.

“We’re doing something wrong, and Pierce Country is doing something right,” she said.

Edwards said they had a program where man-made ponds are created and they capture water from streets, roofs, etc. and they are filtered before they run into nearby water streams.

“That’s one idea and I’m excited about it,” she said.

According to Whitney Chiang, director of multimedia communication for FWPS, over 40 students at TJHS helped put this forum together. They reached out to candidates, wrote questions, and set up the whole night after weeks of preparation.

According to Chiang, TJHS social studies teacher Sara Tenzler shared, “I am beyond proud of the event these students worked so hard to organize. I thought they were brave, thoughtful and passionate throughout the entire process, and I am really happy with how they represented Thomas Jefferson High School and Federal Way Public Schools. It gives me hope and encouragement that we are in good hands with our future generation of leaders.”

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