Responses offer windows to students’ worldsWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
The next mayor of Toledo will inherit a huge assignment. Toledo students have already begun the work. Toledo Free Press asked students what they would do if they were mayor.
Some of the responses were smart; others fascinating; many of them were intellectual, and many were sobering. I never knew how poorly some students viewed their city. These essays were a window to their world. For a moment, I felt what they felt; lived where they lived; feared what they feared.
But I also sensed their optimism. One student talked about being mayor and one day making Toledo a place of pride. The responses were also timely. This year is a mayoral year. Not many people have announced their intentions to run for mayor (those who have or are thinking about it also contributed essays this issue, although current Mayor Carty Finkbeiner declined to participate), but Toledo students were ready to campaign.
“Even though most of my friends are into gangs and drugs, I’m not, so I would do a lot to reduce those things in our city,” one student wrote.
“I would also take monthly visits to schools to see what is important to the children and see how we can work on a better future for them. I would make sure all approved laws are enforced. Repeat violators of any crime will be dealt with by serving the maximum punishment available,” another student explained.
Yet another student wrote: “To make sure the party-going teenagers are safe, I would crack down on those that are not adult-supervised. I would help young women stay safe and out of harm’s way of being raped. This means trying to take date rape drugs off of the streets.”
Almost every student took this assignment seriously. Many students want to make Toledo safer. Many were concerned about gangs and violence, too. Downtown was a huge topic of interest. Students believe Downtown is dying or already dead. They want amusement parks, museums, zoos and other fun activities to continue or become more plentiful. Many students said if they were mayor, they would fix the potholes in the streets. Lots of students are concerned about jobs and getting homeless people into shelters. I was surprised so many students talked about attracting tourists to Toledo. Some suggested casinos.
Getting schools involved wasn’t easy. I sent out a request to all high schools within Toledo Public Schools, but commitment trickled in slowly. We reached out to other Toledo-area schools, including Maumee Valley Country Day School and the Toledo Islamic Academy. The responses from Toledo Islamic Academy were from eighth-graders.
“If I were the mayor of Toledo, I would have teachers from Harvard transferred to the University of Toledo. I would also finance stores and schools in need to bring up the level of academic excellence in elementary and high school. I would make sure that there are no places in poverty. I would make Toledo a Beverly Hills, or even better,” the student wrote.
As we got closer to the deadline, TPS came through, in particular Scott High School. American Studies teacher Mary Dunne embraced this project. She sent me dozens of 200-word essays. Thank you, Ms. Dunne.
For the most part, I edited the responses minimally. I would fix a comma here or a misspelling there. Once in a while, I had to add a word or two so readers could understand what the student meant. All in all, the essays — all their sincerity and blunders — are right from the students. I didn’t want to alter their voices.
I also asked mayoral candidates or those who were possible candidates to play along. Again, the answers give us some insight into what we might expect from our new mayor.
But being mayor is not a game, even if we had a little fun asking students what they would do as mayor. Just ask the students who answered with all the seriousness of young people wanting the best for the future. If you don’t believe me, believe what this student wrote:
“As mayor I want people to say, ‘I want to visit Toledo; it’s such a beautiful city.’ It would be great to have people refer to Toledo in that way.”
Brandi Barhite is Toledo Free Press Special Sections Editor. E-mail her at email@example.com.