Chicago youth offered their own public policy recommendations to some of the city’s most influential decision makers during a virtual town hall Wednesday.
Children and teenagers wrapped up a six-week course through the civic organization Mikva Challenge by presenting proposals on health, education, juvenile justice, public safety and more.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady and Chicago police independent monitor Maggie Hickey were among the officials who backed some of the recommendations from seventh through twelfth graders in the program.
The kids’ feedback centered on school curriculum, an independent audit of the controversial gunshot detection technology ShotSpotter and an expansion of restorative justice court.
The Juvenile Justice Council under Mikva addressed suggested a minimum age of 14 for detainment, in addition to alternatives to juvenile detention.
“We talk a lot about what happens to youth after they get out of the detention,” said Octavio Montesdeoca, a UIC student who took part. “It’s a band-aid on a bullet wound. We need to provide resources before they get into the juvenile system to avoid trauma. We need to be providing community-based alternatives earlier to mitigate people being incarcerated.”
Mikva Challenge is a national education organization that aims to help youth better understand social and political issues. Kids in the program worked over the summer on citywide and neighborhood youth councils to identify issues affecting their communities.
“Anyone here that I’ve worked with before — youth and adults — knows that [Mikva] was a great way to keep us Black and Brown guys off the street and keep us occupied with something good, to keep our minds occupied in something positive,” said Emmanuel Hernandez, a Whitney Young High School student.
Their other approved recommendations included improving transparency in changes to the Chicago Public Schools student code of conduct; bolstering public information campaigns on COVID-19 vaccination, suicide prevention and sexual health education; and introducing a mini-curriculum with lessons related to police reform efforts.
Mikva Challenge CEO Verneé Green said “active youth voice and participation are essential to creating a more equitable city during a time when we have been faced with unprecedented challenges throughout a pandemic, with social unrest and numerous other unforeseen issues.”
The organization will hold more programming based on the student recommendations in the fall.