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City of Auburn Explores Youth Engagement with Town Hall

The City of Auburn held a virtual Youth Town Hall Thursday, April 8 to discuss youth engagement in Auburn, as well as the resources available to local youth.  This was the city’s second town hall event.

Town Hall Panel

The panel for this town hall included representatives from the Auburn School District, City Hall, City Council, and Auburn Junior City Council.

Mayor of Auburn Nancy Backus
Auburn School District Superintendent Dr. Alan Spicciati
Auburn Police Department Commander Cristian Adams
Auburn School District Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Director Isaiah Johnson
Deputy Mayor Claude DaCorsi

City of Auburn Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Program Manager Brenda Goodson-Moore
Auburn School District Prevention and Intervention Services Coordinator Ashely Boyd
Junior City Council Chair Waylon Menzia.

Panel Q&A

Topics covered during the town hall included student resources for mental health, level of education being provided to students learning online, police relationships with youth, school resource officers, and racial equity progress.  

Moderated by City of Auburn Junior City Council Co-chair Jonathan Mulenga, the town hall followed a question and answer format. Questions stemmed from a survey available prior to the town hall (survey still open). Viewers had an opportunity to ask questions throughout the town hall on both Facebook and YouTube live streams. 

Topic: Police

Q: What is the city doing to ensure that there is accountability in our police department?

Answer from Mayor Backus: Auburn has a Police Advisory Committee composed of 25 diverse community members that meet once a month to advise Chief Dan O’Neil and the police department on community issues. The city has also been working with the state legislature on many of the police reform bills, committing to work with legislators that reform bills passed into law are the best they can be.

Q: What is the future of school resource officers (SRO’s) because many students feel uncomfortable having them in schools?

Answer from Dr. Spicciati: Auburn will never have excessive SRO’s because students don’t want to feel like they are in a prison. However, SRO’s are valuable because they know the ins and outs of the schools and students, allowing them to act swiftly in the event of an incident. There is an opportunity for more clarity and education among staff as to the concerns of students and students to understand why SRO’s are needed. Dr. Spicciati shared he communicates with students to receive feedback on SRO’s but encourages dialogue from more students to resolve any potential issues or unintended consequences. 

Q: What community outreach is the APD doing to create trust between students and local law enforcement?

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Auburn police Commander C Adams speaks with a protester at the BLM protest in Auburn | photo by April Duckworth

Answer from Commander Adams: COVID-19 has halted some of the outreach plans, but he is planning a meet and greet between high school students and police officers. He also wants to hear from students through the Auburn Junior City Council and the APAC youth representative to ensure outreach efforts are made that students actually want.

Topic: Racial Equity 

Q: How is Auburn taking steps to support people of color during this difficult time?

Answer from Mayor Backus: Auburn created the Inclusive Auburn initiative to make all community members feel welcomed at all times. A diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant was hired in the last year.

Q: What are some policies the school district updated to ensure that they were equitable, and how?

Answer from Dr. Spicciati: About five years ago, the school district created a racial equity policy to begin equity work. Since then, the largest initiative ASD has taken is training its staff on racial equity. So far, about 500 staff members have been trained through a program called Deep Equity that takes place at locations such as Green River College. ASD has also worked to recruit and retain more diverse applicants in order to have teachers and staff reflect the diversity of Auburn citizens. Additionally, ASD recently began offering a multicultural studies curriculum in high schools. For students, a Youth Equity Stewardship program was created that allows students to skip about five school days to instead spend the day learning about arts and poetry. 

Q: What does the city do to ensure that racial equity is a priority in Auburn? And how can we ensure that the city government will do their part to make an equitable Auburn?

Answer from Deputy Mayor DaCorsi: Current city council members have completed 32 hours of racial equity and social justice training. The city council is committed, devoted, dedicated, engaged, and passionate about racial equity.

Q: How is the city of Auburn’s new racial equity policy helping youth?

Answer from DEI Program Manager Brenda Goodson-Moore: 

The Inclusive Auburn initiative will help Auburn’s youth because it will include everyone in the community to bring about change. Youth’s voices and lived experiences will be elevated, so it’s important for the youth to participate in that work. Next, the city will work to give the same racial equity and social justice training to the rest of Auburn’s staff that Mayor Backus and her team received. Once the staff has been trained, a racial equity group within the city will be created, as well as a racial equity group with community members. 

Topic: Youth Involvement

Q: What can students do to take action on [equity issues] in their local community? 

Answer from ASD’s DEI Director Isiah Johnson: ASD should pursue student engagement with proactive efforts, instead of waiting for students to come to them. Student platforms and student partnerships must be created to include student voices in decision-making. Students should find out their reason for wanting to work on equity issues. Creating a why statement will help students commit to equity work. 

One way students can get involved is becoming an ambassador and placing themselves in places where those conversations are taking place. Johnson also encourages students to attend a school board meeting or city council meeting to find out what the city is saying about youth, and remind the city that youth need to be involved in important discussions. Participating in school clubs that address these issues is also a good way to be engaged. 

Commentary from Junior City Council Chair, Waylon Menzia: Auburn’s Junior City Council wants more members to join, in order to include youth voices in Auburn and students can apply online at the City of Auburn’s website. 

Topic: Mental Health

Q: What mental health resources are available to students in and outside of school hours?

Answer from Dr. Spicciati: ASD has good counselors that have additional resources to direct students to if needed. Teachers and coaches also have relationships with students that may be helpful for noticing if a student is having mental health problems in the first place. If students don’t have insurance to meet with a mental health counselor, ASD covers the cost to remove any access barriers for students. Counselors have been using teletherapy since COVID-19 to continue providing help.

High school counselors and principals also have a list of students who may be at risk, in order to have a heightened sense of awareness toward those students. Additionally, ASD has a monitoring system used as an internet filter at school to alert counselors or principals if students search for words or phrases that raise a flag for risk of self-harm or harming others.

ASD also has a R.E.A.D.Y. program that partners with Auburn Multicare to train school community members, including students, on mental health knowledge.

a teen lays down in the dark staring at his brightly lit smart phone
Source: Shutterstock

Q: What are symptoms youth need to be aware of related to mental health concerns?

Answer from ASD’s Prevention and Intervention Services Coordinator Ashely Boyd: loss of interest in activities and hobbies through abrupt withdrawal. A pattern of sleeplessness, or excessive sleeping, sluggishness, and extreme mood swings. Extreme weight gain or weight loss may be due to increased stress. Loss of good personal hygiene that is sudden and ongoing. A consistent drop in grades, and withdrawal from family and friends by choice. Feelings of prolonged worthlessness. A pattern of self-medicating to escape from pain. This is not an all-inclusive list, but rather a list of major symptoms that counselors see in students with poor mental health. 

Q: What would you recommend students do if they’re not able to access mental health resources?

Answer from Ashely Boyd: Reach out for help because nobody should deal with mental illness alone. Find an adult or friend, or if you don’t have someone at home, turn to someone at school. Mental health services will also be available during the summer for students. Resources such as Teenlink, and the Suicide Prevention Lifeline are also available to students. 

Audience Questions:

Q: What measures are in place to ensure the identities of students on the ‘watch list’ are not publicized or otherwise shared with those who should not have the information.

Answer from Dr. Spicciati: This is highly confidential information and there are a variety of confidentiality levels that are based on a need to know. Normally only principals and counselors are made aware of students who are high risk. 

Q: If a student utilizes the free mental health through the district, are their parent(s) or guardian notified?

Answer from Ashely Boyd: In Washington, anyone 13 or over can seek mental health therapy without parent permission, but ASD’s mental health therapists do a good job of trying to bridge the gap between the student and parent to get family involved.

Watch the full town hall:

The next Auburn town hall will be Thursday, May 13, 2021 at 6 PM. The focus topic will be Homelessness in Auburn.


Sources:

To write this article the Auburn Examiner viewed the City of Auburn town hall.

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