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Apr 21, 2009 7:24 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Teens speak out about trials of their generation

Apr 21, 2009 7:24 PM

East Hampton High School students spoke with passion about some of their concerns including underage drinking, cyber-bullying, recycling and racism to an audience of government officials, police officers and community leaders at a Youth Speak Out in Town Hall on Monday night.

Organized by the school’s Human Relations Club and the Youth Advisory Group, the Youth Speak Out has been held once every two years for the past two decades. This year, the Human Relations Club distributed a survey through the school’s English department to find out students’ concerns and what topics they might want discussed.

Audrey Gaines, the director of the East Hampton Town Division of Youth Services, said that the idea has always been to give students a venue and time to voice the issues that concern them in front of town government and other influential individuals.

“We give the kids an avenue to participate in the decision making process,” said Ms. Gaines.

Several students spoke about the dangers of underage drinking and the pressure among teens to avoid confrontation with adults at all costs, even if their peers are in danger from alcohol poisoning.

One student, Christian Deaguas, told a story as an example of an all too common, and scary, occurrence. A teen and his friend go to a party where everyone is drinking. His friend drinks too much and falls asleep on the couch. He seems okay, he’s just resting, and the boy leaves him alone. He returns to find that his friend is not breathing. He knows he’s supposed to call an ambulance, but if tries to save his friend, he’ll get everyone at the party in trouble with the police and be ostracized. I would call an ambulance, Christian said, while suggesting that most teens would not because they are too afraid of getting into trouble. “Somehow we need to make cops our friends, not our foes,” he said.

Ruby Honerkamp, a senior and the president of the Students Association, said the pressure not to call adults for help can be overwhelming—that students really suffer from others bullying them. “People don’t realize that alcohol is a poison in their system,” she said. But because of the fear of getting in trouble, “kids are more encouraged to lie,” she said.

Cyberbullying through social networks like Facebook and MySpace is also a major problem, several teens said. “Teen suicides are induced by cyberbullying all over the country,” said Jack Charde, citing the tragic case of Megan Meier, who hanged herself after a parent pretended to be the girl’s classmate online and wrote to her in an instant message that the world would be better off without her.

He mentioned the use of “walls,” in Facebook, in which people can write messages about other people, anonymously if they want. Countless obscene comments are written anonymously, many making fun of other students, he said. “There are many people who cyberbully like it’s a sport.” He encouraged audience members to ask their children about it.

“People don’t realize how much words can affect someone’s emotions,” added Ruby. Cyberbullying is “the same thing as harassment,” she said, adding that she has brought up the issue with administrators, who, she said, do not do enough about the problem.

“We’re so addicted to Facebook and computers—we just live it. You can do anything without face confrontation and it’s not fair,” she concluded.

Recycling in the school is also something that almost all students—98 percent, according to a survey—said they support. While part of the cost for the school’s $80 million expansion and renovation project derives from its green design, the school does not have a comprehensive recycling program, as Jack pointed out. Senior Filloreta Islami, the president of the school’s Human Relations Club, cited the wasteful use of energy with lights and television that are left on all day when no one is in the classroom.

Christian was brave enough to stand up and say a few, poignant words on the topic of racism. Before he spoke, Lee Lawler, the faculty advisor to the Human Relations Club, had said that while the majority of surveys came back reporting that students felt and saw racism as an issue in their lives, it was hard to find someone to talk about it publicly.

Christian said that he couldn’t even repeat the “bad way” that some students talk about Latino students. He said he hopes that more teachers will learn Spanish and stand up for those in the Latino community.

“I was nominated for the National Honor Society, but my parents didn’t get any notice in Spanish and they don’t understand English well,” Christian said. He asked the school to provide his parents and others with some sort of information translated, but it still has not.

School clubs were a concern. Chris Mangieri, a senior, made a case for a sailing club at the high school, asking the school to have its insurance company add sailing to its coverage so students could compete. Ruby pleaded for more support for the arts, including chorus and theater, and argued that varsity sports were far more supported in town than the arts.

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