Sowing the seeds of activism

 Left to right: Cicero-North Syracuse students Lydia Herter, Maddy Owens and Shaho Shwani, with NSEA’s Phil Cleary. Photo provided.

Left to right: Cicero-North Syracuse students Lydia Herter, Maddy Owens and Shaho Shwani, with NSEA’s Phil Cleary. Photo provided.

PAC coordinator brings students along as political interns

North Syracuse EA member Phil Cleary, a NYSUT regional political action coordinator, always marks the holiday season with a legislative breakfast prior to the January opening of the state legislative session.

The region’s NYSUT political posse did it again last Saturday with a union-catered breakfast that included presentations and breakout sessions with assembly members and state senators from the area.

However, the crowd sharing coffee and noshing on breakfast staples at the NYSUT regional office was a little less gray than in years past.

“The new thing this year was student interns,” Cleary said.

A few years ago, Cleary struck the idea of planting seeds of activism. He began to ask students to volunteer to join him on in-district lobbying visits as he ploughed the political fields of Central New York.

“This year, for the first time, they helped act as hosts and helpers for the breakfast,” he said. Kids from Cicero-North Syracuse High School collected the money for the breakfast while others greeted everybody arriving and set an energetic tone for the adults. Shaho Shwani, the first student who interned with Cleary, had a white board and collected topics people wanted to cover that morning. Students from Jamesville-DeWitt and Chittenango high schools also helped. The young people participated in the small-group discussions and contributed a great deal to the dialogue. Everybody seems to be more focused when students are involved.

“The kids are so enthusiastic,” Cleary said, “it’s just great.”

At left, Assemblyman Al Stirpe, D–Cicero, chats with students from Jamesville-Dewitt and Donna Opedisano, back to camera, who is J-D TA's PAC person.

At left, Assemblyman Al Stirpe, D–Cicero, chats with students from Jamesville-Dewitt and Donna Opedisano, back to camera, who is J-D TA’s PAC person.

The student activists can be very effective in sharing their experiences with lawmakers. It tends to resonate when a student tells a senator how the tax cap has choked off so many programs that fellow seniors have nothing to do and are encouraged to leave school after 10 a.m. every day. They provide invaluable insight and personal perspective on so many issues affecting schools and their communities.

“The legislators love it, and we show them that we are growing new education activists,” Cleary said.

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