by J. Greenberg
Tran is a young woman ready to take on the challenges of
the future -- and the present! At 16, she's already had a major impact
on educational policy in the Central Valley.
As a student advisor
to the E21 program, Amy helped design, distribute, and evaluate a survey
of Sacramento's students. That survey helped secure an $8 million grant
from the Carnegie Foundation --funds that are especially welcome in
this time of deep cuts in education.
Amy came to the
E21 program through her hard work in student government. As a Freshman,
she served as class president. The next year, she was elected student
body Treasurer. She's now a Junior, and says she's taking a break to
concentrate on her studies...
But Amy's idea of
a "break" isn't what you'd expect from a teenager. She's taking
part in a youth leadership program offered by the Great Valley Center
and the California Center for Civic Participation and Youth Development.
The program, called CATAPULT, aims to cultivate and empower young leaders
in the Central Valley.
And on January 10,
2003, Amy and 35 of her peers met at the state capitol, to present their
positions on nine key issues facing the Central Valley. Amy spoke on
the subject of civic engagement:
From our research we discovered three important points:
1) Youth feel
isolated from school and communities because they don't feel their
opinions are valued.
2) Youth would
like more opportunities to participate in policy making and other
issues that affect us now and in the future.
3) Youth participation
benefits everyone. It benefits youth by molding future leaders, and
it encourages adults to view youth as a resource.
Over the course
of this season, we've dealt with some tough issues. At times, the problems
might have seemed overwhelming. But it's hard to be pessimistic knowing
our future is in such capable hands.
What made you
want to run for class president freshman year?
Well, during junior
high I was kind of tired of how certain people made certain decisions
for me. Instead of me actually getting a say in what we do and how our
events are run. So I figured, "Freshman year is an opportunity
to start fresh." It wouldn't necessarily be a popularity contest
anymore; it would be more about who you think is able to do the best
job. I just really wanted to do something. I was tired of just sitting
there and letting people make decisions for me.
So what were
some the things you did as class president?
We ran meetings,
we worked in student government -- all the typical student government
stuff: putting on dances, rallies, things like that. It's just basically
learning how to work with others is the most important thing. You learn
how to ask for donations, write thank you letters. I think they're important
What other sorts
of things did you learn as class president?
I learned that you
can't always take things on yourself; you have to delegate things in
order to be a good leader. If you take it all upon yourself it wouldn't
be done to the best of its ability. I learned to delegate during my
presidency freshman year. Another important thing I learned was how
to communicate with others. You had to work a lot with people on committees
because in a lot of school functions you have to ask for donations and
things like that. You have to learn how to go about it the right way:
write letters... There's a procedure to do everything.
Was it your involvement
in student government that led to your participation in the E21 plan?
Yeah, I had to gotten
to know our principal, Mr. Hyde, and he approached me one day about
doing this thing called E21 as a youth director. I had no idea what
it was at the time but I'm sure glad I did it.
Can you tell
us in a nutshell exactly what the goal of E21 was?
E21 was an effort
to redesign our curriculum, facilities --everything we need in order
to be more successful in our learning environment.
And a key element
of that effort was securing a Carnegie grant?
-- the Carnegie grant was a major focus of the program.
Who did you personally
wind up working with once you got into the program?
I wound up working
with 35 other youths from our district from all the different schools,
even the continuation schools. I wound up working for the people from
Capital Focus, which were Jim Davis and Dana Gonzalez. They were very
important in guiding us and helping us because they trained us to do
what we do, to speak effectively with adults, how to communicate with
You said previously
that you had a passion for policy; is that something that grew out of
doing the E21 effort or is that something you've always had?
Well, I've always
wanted to have my say, to have my voice heard somehow. Not necessarily
have my way but I wanted my voice to be heard. I didn't know there was
a way to do it effectively without it sounding like you're complaining.
And this showed me there is an effective way to do it. It's by speaking
in a way that's very respectable; you can't turn down someone with great
language -- the jargon that they use -- making valuable points.
Can you give
us a brief overview of the survey you put together: who you approached
and what kind of questions you asked them?
we were handed surveyes due to the size of the campus. We distributed
them to a cross-section of youth. The questions on there were like,
"What's the best thing about your school? What are the worst things?
What things about school do you find most stressful? What do you like?
What don't you like?" Things like that. "What would like to
see in the future?" It asked them if they would like to be involved
in the forum and things like that.
So what were
some of the responses you got? What were kids most concerned about?
One of the things
was smaller learning communities. A lot of kids, especially those at
the bigger schools, said that their classes were overcrowded -- 40 to
a class. That's ridiculous. They feel that they don't get the help they
need or the attention that they want in order to be successful. And
they feel like they don't have access to counselors; they're too stressed
out. Five different projects all due on the same day -- that's hard.
Nobody has the time to do that; even with time management there aren't
enough hours in the day to complete all those projects. The overpowering
thing we learned was smaller learning communities. Students want to
be successful. We don't want to go to school for no reason, and we know
in order to be successful we have to have the attention and help we
Can you give
us any examples of how the money from Carnegie can help alleviate these
Maybe they can go
to facilitating smaller houses; smaller learning communities. They could
be there for support services, hiring an extra counselor if that's possible.
I know some of it has gone to hiring entrepreneurs who are at each campus
to make sure that the E21 program is being carried out.
How exactly do
they do that?
we have E21 meetings twice a month and they're the ones that facilitate
it. They make sure that things run smoothly for youth congress, teachers,
being aware of what's going on, things like that.
Are you still
involved with E21? How long was it as a process for you?
After the youth
director program was over, I was involved with SSE, which I was also
involved with when I was with youth directors. The student advisory
council decided to carry out the goals of E21 basically. They were always
kind of a quiet group. They met every once in awhile and talked about
what went on in the school but they never had a mission. But now they
want to carry out the mission of youth governmence. I'm still kind of
involved with that but this year I've kind of taken my hand out of very
one's little pot, and try to lay back and focus more on my academics
now, because it is my junior year. It's a very important year.
So what some
of the academics that you're focusing on this year?
Honors and AP classes.
Chemistry...all the normal classes. I have problems just like everyone
else, areas that I need help on. I'm really trying to focus on that.
One class that I really like is AP U.S. History because it challenges
you in ways of thinking, you have analyze everything. It's so great.
From your perspective,
what are some of the really grave problems in education that need to
be addressed now?
Well, an overall
view of our district is that everyone isn't getting enough attention,
that overcrowding in classes is something that we should really focus
on. That overcrowding in schools, especially in the bigger schools with
like 2,700 kids, 40 to a classroom is just -- you can't do that. You
can't learn in that environment. Facilities are really important. It
might sound a little bit superficial or what not, but you can't learn
in a classroom that's 100 degrees, or below freezing. You can't focus
when all your thinking is on how it's so uncomfortable. I feel we need
to focus on the big dropout rate between freshman and sophomore year.
What are our non-high school graduates going to do to be effective citizens
in the future? Smaller learning communities would help solve that; you
wouldn't be wondering what went wrong over those two years if you're
close knit as a group and the teachers pay attention to you, then they
Where are you
hoping to go to school and what are you hoping to do after graduation?
After high school
I want to go to UC Berkely. If not then I'd like to go to UCLA or UC
Davis, or something like that. After that, hopefully law school --I
don't know which law school -- and then become a corporate lawyer. If
I decide to do something later on...I don't know what college will bring
to me. I'm sure it will open new doors to me.
What is it about
corporate law that you find attractive?
It's just something
about business and how it's run, because we do live in a capitalistic
nation and it's just like everyone out for their own and if you're successful...then
you're successful. When money comes into play people get kind of shaky,
and I'd like to see it regulated more because we are learning a lot
in economics right now that I find really interesting about big corporations.
How did you get
involved in the CATAPULT program?
Well, student advisory
council is all about youth government now and speaking the youth voice,
so we were promoting different programs we could get involved in and
I came across the CATAPULT program and I thought, "Wow! That's
a great opportunity to work with students from throughout California."
So I applied, got my recommendation letters, and I got a letter that
said I was accepted.
What are CATAPULT's
CATAPULT is a program
that focuses mainly on the Central Valley and about empowering youth
and creating a better community for us because we are going to make
policy recommendations to legislators and we are going to have a major
project at the end of the community in one area or another, whether
it be civic participation or health services things like that.
How did you wind
up taking on civic engagement as a subject?
During our youth
training session in August, we signed up for different committees to
research and to make recommendations in January -- which is now! On
Monday we're going to make policy recommendations to legislators. When
we signed up for those fields we were just divided into three other
subdivisions to focus on and they put me into civic engagement. I've
participated in civic engagement before.
Do you see a
lot of apathy among your fellow students?
Its not that I see
complete apathy; its just that they aren't aware of what they can do.
They can do a lot just by speaking up. They just have to find the right
avenue to go down to have their voice be heard. A lot of them don't
know about E21 and what they can do to be heard. What really frustrates
me is the fact that they want to complain but they won't take the initiative
to find out what they can do.
What was it like
for you meeting other students from around the Valley and working with
It was really shocking
to me because they really opened a new way of thinking about how our
valley really is. I live in Sacramento which is basically a city. But
they lived in more rural areas that had problems. They had nothing to
do on Saturday nights, so a lot of them turned to drugs or violence.
That opened a whole new door to me; I didn't even know something like
that would exist. I'm thinking, "This isn't the Midwest."
It showed me the rural way of living. Not everything's like Sacramento,
in that people would like to live in Sacramento and be a part of a big
Do you think
you made some friendships and allegiances that will last?
I definitely hope
so because those people are really enthusiastic, and we have the same
interests obviously because we're joining this program; we're willing
to make a commitment. And I mean, there's not a lot of youth I know
around me that are really into this stuff. They don't really get what
I'm doing. They're just like, "Oh, okay, you're doing community
service." I mean, it's a little bit more than that if you look
at it in a broader picture. I'd like to see it more as starting something
that future generations can carry on.
Did you find
any common ground with the other young people involved in CATAPULT?
I would say that
the common ground would just be like, you know, no matter where you
are, kids are going to be bored and they're going to turn to something
else because they get tired of the same thing they see every day. So
we want to find ways where youth can direct their energies in a positive
way, instead of going out and doing drugs. I guess that's our major
What advice do
you have for young people who want to get involved but don't know where
Well, I'm sure there's
an adult they can turn to that is interested in what they have to say.
You can go to organizations or maybe like even your city council and
board meetings. Just start going to board meetings and suggesting that
maybe they have a youth council started. Or go to the school board;
if you don't already have a student member on the school board then
approach them and ask them if it would be possible to open up positions
or anything like that.
So you've found
that adults really are receptive when youth approach them with ideas?
Yes, I do believe
that they are receptive, but it's only if you go about it in the right
way. It's when you speak in a courteous manner. When you speak not using
'like' and all the teenage jargon. "Um," and likes, and uhs,
and you knows! Just speak the way your teacher would like you to speak
during a presentation because that's basically what you're doing. You're
presenting an idea to them.
Do you think
you'll stay in the Central Valley after getting your law degree and
starting your career?
don't know. Because, it's a great place to be because it's like Sacramento
is "the little big city," you know? And it's just the right
place to be because the cost of living is low, the weather is nice,
everything is just
it's nice here. But maybe I want to go to a
place where things are more "happening" like San Francisco
where everything's so busy. I like staying busy so
What impact do
you see your generation making in the long run?
Well, I think that
hopefully adults will turn to kids or teenagers more as a resource than
"a problem to solve." Because honestly, we are a resource;
people pay a lot of money to hear what we have to say. Advertising companies
pay millions and millions of dollars to hear, "What's the coolest
thing?" Well, we're offering it right here for free! We're giving
it to you for free, and if you were smart you'd take us up on it. (laughs)
And how about
for the future of the schools here in Sacramento and the Valley; what
are your hopes and predictions?
provide students with a more successful graduation rate, better curriculum,
allow them to be more competitive for schools, or colleges. If not --
and for those who don't choose to go to colleges, hopefully we'll provide
them with a sense of what they do want to do after school. I think the
whole goal of high school is to prepare them for the real world. But
are you really able to do that when you're focused more on algebra or
calculus where you have to do things on imaginary planes? Or do you
do that by going out to the world and actually seeing a piece of it?