Collecting teen opinions to help shape communities in future

Jan 25, 2019

Teens from across Western New York and Southeast Michigan are being asked to offer their opinions. The Ralph Wilson, Jr. Foundation is working to gather 20,000 teen responses. WBFO’s senior reporter Eileen Buckley had a chance to talk with a couple of Niagara Falls City High School students who are participating in the "Teen Opinions Count".  

11th graders Mahoganie Lewis and Jasiah Jackson gathered at a conference table inside the superintendent's office. The students were selected to help lead student opinion from their high school for this project.

Niagara Falls City High School 11th graders Mahoganie Lewis & Jasiah Jackson.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“Well basically we get the teens opinions on different activities that we would like to have around the Western New York area, explained Lewis.

“We just want like safe places for them to go to, in regards to issues their having, whether it’s mental health or like personal issues,” Jackson responded.

Jackson and Lewis tell WBFO News they want emphasize the need for more places and programs for teens, particularly in the city of Niagara Falls.

“How teens feel about their area and what they would like to have more, different activities around. There’s not like really a lot of stuff to do here, so we’d rather get more things, so we can stay out of trouble and be more involved with our city,” Lewis stated.

“Like Mahoganie said, I just hope to bring more programs because – as a teen – we see a lot of things our friends go through,” Jackson said.

“Listening to the voice of a student is the most powerful tool that we have,” declared Mark Laurrie, Niagara Falls City Schools Superintendent.    

Laurrie said gathering student opinion can help shape better curriculums, school safety, events and programs. The superintendent tells us it would be “foolish” not to hear their voices and embraces the Ralph Wilson Foundation’s project, seeking the voices of students in Niagara County.    

Mark Laurrie, Niagara Falls City Schools Superintendent.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“We, as adults, think we know the way it should be, but if we’re going to meet students of 2019, where they’re at and where their issues are or their concerns are or their feelings are – we really need to listen to their voice,” Laurrie remarked.

“This is the largest project ever of its kind,” said Amber Slichta, with the Foundation. 

Slichta said they want teens to use their voices and help create community change. One of the Foundation's big focus has been on afterschool programs and hearing from teens when they’re not in the classroom.

“The responses that are coming in are incredibly thoughtful and, in some cases, touching in how thoughtful teens are being with this project, and I think we’re just going to have incredible amounts of information, ideas to go through,” Slichta responded.

“I just wish there’s – more support system and more communicating skills – everybody just needs to communicate more – that’s how we get things solved,” Lewis reflected.

Outside Niagara Falls High School, Niagara Falls, N.Y.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

The Foundation will look at future investments and how they can better reflect a teen’s interest, in hopes of creating more opportunities.

“And I think very often in philanthropy, a challenge that philanthropy will go to the experts and the adults, which is equally important, you also have to hear from the individuals that – you know – in the end – we’re are here to serve and then look for ways to meet in the middle that take things that are effective, like best practice and meet the needs of the kids and help them – that they’re telling us are important to them,” Slichta explained.

“I just see life happening – everybody is being hit with different things –you see a lot drugs – you see a lot of teen pregnancy – you see a lot of peer pressure going on – it’s just life in general that’s hitting kids like a ton of bricks,” Jackson noted.

The Falls city school students opinions are now part of close to 13,000 opinions already collected across in our region and Michigan. Along with Niagara County, the Foundation is also gathering opinions from students in Erie, Genesee and Monroe counties. The collection process is expected to wrap up this May. Once the data is examined, then the Foundation returns to the communities for deeper conversations.