WASHINGTON – Congress was just looking for an answer to teen violence. Michael Romano of Howard County’s River Hill High School had about a half-dozen answers to offer.
There is more community involvement, smaller classrooms, more guidance counselors, stronger parent-teacher relationships and greater student participation in school affairs, he said Tuesday.
“I think it’s awesome,” Romano said after he, Western High School senior Anita Wheeler and Parkville High School senior Scott Gibson met with Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, to lend their perspectives to the problem of teen violence.
The three Baltimore-area students joined 21 other Maryland students and more than 300 youths from across the country who were on Capitol Hill on Tuesday for the first of three days of the Voices Against Violence conference.
They will hear speeches, attend meetings and strategy sessions at the conference, which is being sponsored by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and the Democratic Caucus.
Students were greeted Tuesday by Gephardt and President Clinton, who was greeted with thunderous applause. The president asked the students to help Congress create programs that will decrease the amount of violence in society.
“What we have to do is give you the tools and the framework to do this work,” Clinton said. “In many ways, all of you can have more influence on your peers than I can as president. We can try, but you can make all of the difference.”
Students watched the premiere of the video “Fight for Your Rights: Through My Eyes,” sponsored by MTV’s anti-violence campaign, and then participated in a panel discussion with MTV host Ananda Lewis and young adults who were featured in the video. Students lined up at the microphones to share their views during the panel discussion.
Hearing other points of view was helpful in understanding the causes of violence, said Hallie Baer, a junior at Rockville High School in Montgomery County.
“When you hear others’ opinions you know where they’re coming from,” said Baer, who spent part of the day talking about the issue with Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda.
In addition to Cardin and Morella, Maryland members of Congress who sponsored students at the conference were Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore; Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville; and Albert Wynn, D-Largo.
Wheeler, the student member of the Baltimore City Board of Education, said it is exciting to have Congress take an interest in youth violence prevention, because that gives the media a chance to focus on something besides the negative.
“It’s hard to get the media to come to anything, but when Congress says it’s important, the media shows up,” said Wheeler.
Maryland students interviewed Tuesday said they were impressed by the attentiveness of the members of Congress they met with.
“He (Cardin) really wanted to hear our opinions and our opinions will weigh heavily in his decisions,” said Gibson, after a half-hour meeting with the congressman. The Baltimore County student said Cardin, who often visits his school, is “a very student-oriented congressman.”
Wheeler and Romano said they do not plan to let the issue end after this week. The two student leaders are among the planners for a Nov. 1 state summit on youth violence. A total of 500 students are expected at the student-led conference and State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick has been invited to attend.
“We’re going to regional action plans that they can implement in their district,” said Romano, who is vice president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils.