A couple of weeks ago, when I picked my 10-year-old up at school after her student government meeting, she was angry and close to tears. When I asked her what was wrong, she declared, "I need permission to use the word 'friggin'!" I had to contain my giggle, as she was clearly upset, and I asked, again, what was wrong. She told me that, due to proposed state budget cuts, the middle school and high school athletic programs might be eliminated. Since she was planning (and excited) to run cross country and track next year (as a 5th grader, she's not eligible yet), this was devastating to hear. I told her that if she was really upset about it, she needed to go down to the next school board meeting and let them know. Within five minutes, she decided that was exactly what she was going to do.
Over the past two weeks, we've talked quite a bit about her speech. I explained that she needed to be clear about why eliminating the sports programs would be a bad idea and that she also needed to make sure she was willing to give something back -- not just ask for 'something for nothing' (even though the programs are warranted on their own merit). She told me the other day that she and her friend Abigail had discussed the speech and come up with some good points. I told her to write it all out and then I'd look at it and we could make changes if they were necessary.
I was blown away. If I hadn't sat and watched her type it all out, I would have assumed it was written by someone much older than 10. She was clear and articulate and she made her points succinctly. She even added at the end that she understood there was not enough money in the budget for everything schools need, but that she and her friends and their parents would be willing to raise funds and find volunteers to keep the programs going. There were a couple of small areas that lacked a certain diplomacy but she's 10... diplomacy isn't something a lot of adults can employ, so her lack wasn't too surprising. I made suggestions to tweak those areas and she did it. She did it well.
So, tonight was the school board meeting. We got there a little early and sat near the front. When the time came for the 8-member board (including the school Superintendent) to hear from the general public, Ryan was first up. She announced herself, her age, her school, and her topic, and then she launched into her speech. Though I knew she was nervous, no one else could tell. She was confident, clear, and full of conviction. After she finished, the next woman up (to speak about the arts program) said she didn't want to follow Ryan. Everyone laughed. One of the school board members told my baby she was "eloquent and very brave." And she was!
It turns out that the athletic programs aren't being cut (yay!). The decision had been made before Ryan spoke (although the Superintendent joked that they just made the decision after Ryan's speech), but I assured her that she had made an impression nonetheless, and that her words might have an impact down the road, when the budget issue comes up again. And regardless, it's important to be heard when you feel strongly about something, especially something so worthwhile. I told her that the school board and the community needs to know that students care and that they are willing to work within established protocols to get things done.
She was as proud of herself as I was.
She might be on television tonight and in the newspaper tomorrow. I sure do hope so!