District 30 State Rep. Jesse Johnson

District 30 State Rep. Jesse Johnson

Post-pandemic world is an opportunity for our youth | Guest column

By Jesse Johnson, District 30 State Representative

When will things go back to normal? As a state legislator, that’s a question I heard a lot this past year. Many of the messages I’ve been getting are from people wanting to know when schools and businesses would reopen, when it would be safe to travel or visit family again — all good questions without clear answers as we adapted to a global pandemic.

But we can’t just go back. This is an opportunity to move forward because we still have much work to do for young people in our communities.

Our kids have missed a lot this past year. Not having face to face learning opportunities in a structured classroom has hurt our students tremendously. Summers without friends, sports and clubs cancelled, and community programs shut down all meant our kids had no place to go.

Federal Way is no exception. Even before the pandemic, our youth struggled with a lack of access to after-school and summer learning programs, career pathways, and educational opportunities beyond the classroom.

As a former City Councilmember, and a current State Representative, I know that investing in our youth is the key to long-term emotional and financial success for families. That is why I am proud to have championed new investments that will help our transition to a post-pandemic new normal be one that supports our youth of today enter the world of tomorrow.

One area that is crucial to the future economic success of Washington is getting students access to good-paying building trades careers, starting when they are still in school. Growing up, I apprenticed at a local painting and general contracting company. That work and the skills I learned helped me appreciate a hard day’s work and the fair wage that comes with it. More youth should get that chance, which is why I passed funding for pre-apprenticeship programs in the trades in partnership with Federal Way schools.

COVID-19 exposed some of the deeply harmful inequities in our state and reminded us that we must do better for everyone in our community so we can recover together. That is why I am particularly happy to pass funding in the state budget for culturally-competent academic support for our Latinx and Spanish-speaking students in our middle schools, provided by El Centro de La Raza.

We have some fantastic organizations in the 30th Legislative District, but some are better supported than others. Without access to the same levels of funding and resources as other non-profits, our community-based organizations lack the capacity to fully support our youth. The Federal Way Black Collective came to me with a request for funding to help support those organizations, many of which benefit our Black, Indigenous and youth of color. This money will go to helping provide essential services and increase supports for these organizations that serve these youth.

Expanding education outside of the classroom is a passion of mine, particularly when we are able to make use of the resources in our communities. Camp Kilworth was a Boy Scout camp for 80 years but shut down in 2016. Now, we have an opportunity to buy the land and turn it into a place all children can enjoy through outdoor day camps, family camp events, and as an environmental education location for our schools.

Finally, we know that our youth need guidance and support and providing that will reduce involvement with the criminal legal system, which can be a result of an inequitable system and a lack of opportunities and places for youth to go. Federal Way needs a youth resource center to help keep kids on the path of success. The initial planning and development of that center is funded in the budget and I’m committed to seeing it completed in upcoming capital budget proposals.

These are just a handful of the ways we can create a new normal for Federal Way youth. From in-classroom learning and outdoor activities to after-school programs and summer camps, we can create new positive opportunities to learn and grow in a safe environment.

I am proud to have sponsored these measures and hope you and your family will check them out when they are available.

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