Hometown Hero: FW student gets busy building a brighter future

Juan L. Juarez Ramos focuses on civic engagement in his beloved community.

Not many Federal Way high school students get their senior photos done at the State Capitol in Olympia, but for Juan L. Juarez Ramos, it just makes sense.

Juarez Ramos was the first Latino page for the 30th Legislative District, a program where a young person lives in Olympia for a week and works for the state representatives. He said he “felt at home there.” This may be because he has been involved in everything from student body leadership to health education outreach and more.

This focus on civic engagement is especially important to him when it comes to helping youth get involved. This past election cycle, he organized a candidate forum at Thomas Jefferson High School. Two other public candidate forums were held, one organized by The Mirror and a multilingual version put on by Mujer al Volante.

“Especially since this is a local election, I found it very important for young high schoolers to really know who wants to lead them, especially with the school board,” Juarez Ramos said. “It’s important to have our voices heard as well and to have had the opportunity to get questions from the students.”

For his personal contributions to civic engagement and his passion for providing access for others to do the same, for his example as a youth leader in the community and for his dedication to breaking barriers to increase representation of Latino leadership, Juan L. Juarez Ramos is the Mirror’s Hometown Hero for the month of March.

This month, he is working on voter registration outreach events at his school with the League of Women Voters to support and encourage students in registering and making their voices heard through their ballots.

Juarez Ramos is also the chair of the city’s Youth Commission. That organization’s responsibility is to “serve as an advisory body to the City Council, other city commissions and city staff on issues such as finding solutions for local youth problems, providing community youth with an outlet for expressing interests and opinions, making the public aware of the Youth Commission program, and other issues of importance to youth.”

Youth Commission vice chair Aissata Bangoura and Juarez Ramos have recently teamed up to make a difference in some school district policies that they say need to change.

“Throughout this entire school year and before, I have heard frustrations from both students and teachers about standards-based grading and about Synergy,” Juarez Ramos said. In a previous interview, he shared some specific criticisms, like a feature of the grading system that will show a student’s grade as “Incomplete” if even one assignment is missing. This means the student could be only one assignment away from an A or failing and still see the same letter grade for the class. This is a problem because it is confusing and defeating, and makes students give up, he said.

In response to these issues, Juarez Ramos said, “we spoke to the school board about frustrations, we had meetings with Dr. Spencer and other people from the school board, the school district. And now we’re in the process of having teachers’ opinions on this and students’ opinions.”

With this particular push for change, he was sure to credit his vice chair Bangoura for her huge role in it all, joking that “she’s in the background doing all the work,” and “I’m here just for the pictures.”

Juarez Ramos said that the response from the district has been positive: “They are actually listening to it, they’ve been coming to our forums that we have for students, they made sure that we were heard. They know that it is a frustration beyond one student.”

Although he focuses on youth, he also has a strong love for the entire community of Federal Way that drives him to want to make a positive change.

“My parents came to this country and they were nervous and scared about how people would treat them, but the city of Federal Way, the community here, opened their arms and doors for us,” Juarez Ramos said. “I am 100% forever on the bottom of my heart grateful for every single person here.”

More outreach

At his school, he also started the Student Health Ambassadors club at his school, where he does outreach through HealthPoint about issues that impact student health. This can range from everything from STDs to mental health.

“There’s always a huge stigma about mental health … and of course that stigma has come to me as well, especially, during the pandemic times,” Juarez Ramos said. He said he was raised to know that “school is number one and to always focus on school, but I wasn’t really told about mental health, and I had to figure that out by myself. I knew there were other students who are like that … and I wanted to help make a change.”

HealthPoint was looking for students who were interested in doing outreach at his school, and he decided to get involved and create an entire club to do outreach in partnership with the clinic.

This also led him to be a speaker at HealthPoint’s annual Kaleidoscope Gala, where he shared about his parent’s journey to this country as well as a poem he wrote about school and mental health.

Juarez Ramos has also volunteered with campaigns for at least three currently elected officials doing everything from sign waving participating in parades to knocking on doors.

Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell shared: “Juan is a thoughtful student dedicated to making our community better. His work as Chair of the Federal Way Youth Commission and his community involvement speaks volumes about his bright future. We wish him well.”

Federal Way City Council President Linda Kochmar said of Juarez Ramos: “It’s refreshing to see a young person thinking about serious issues and forming their own conscience. I think he will do well in life and hope that he finds what he is looking for.”

“I love this community very much,” Juarez Ramos said of the city. “I was born and raised in Federal Way. Everybody here from any side, I love dearly.”

Photo provided by Juan Juarez Ramos
Juan Juarez Ramos at the Kaleidescope Gala for HealthPoint where he was chosen as a speaker.

Photo provided by Juan Juarez Ramos Juan Juarez Ramos at the Kaleidescope Gala for HealthPoint where he was chosen as a speaker.