2012-05-10 / Schools
What’s for lunch? Students campaign for improved plate
Women in government mentor high school students at annual Running & Winning workshop
Conversations buzzed down the narrow hallway like a hive of bees at the sixth annual Running & Winning workshop on April 27 as high school juniors worked together to make a sound decision that answers the question: Who chooses what we eat in school?
“We choose topics that we hope will give them an in-depth look from all sides and see how difficult it might be for a candidate or politician to take a stance on something when they’re trying to work with a community that has many different opinions about a subject or controversy,” explained Linda Bricker, a coordinator of the event.
“Many of them come here not understanding what they’re coming for, and they’re meeting women at all different stages of their political careers, something they might not have thought they had any interest in. But I think they learned that if they’re passionate about a subject, that requires activism of some sort, and that kind of takes them in the direction of getting involved.”
The verbal food fight flung words across the table as those in favor of healthful lunches demanded fruits and vegetables while others defended the traditional serving of mystery meat and chocolate chip cookies. Students also had to consider parental concerns, potential Board of Education questions, and economic impacts of changing up the plate.
“It’s a really important issue because we’re all in high school and most of us buy lunch, so we’re very opinionated on it,” said Katie Veasey, of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School.
Sixty-four students, including four student reporters, from 11 different Monmouth County high schools participated in the workshop, which is designed to encourage young women to consider running for public office and to empower them to make change in their communities.
The students were divided into groups where they devised and executed a campaign strategy and selected a candidate to make a speech and present a poster that best argued their stance.
“Honestly, we need to have healthy lunches because it overall just helps you in school, your weight, and how you perform in anything, so it’s going to be hard to be against it,” said Amy Matthew of Monmouth Regional High School.
“We need to reach a common ground and explore each other’s opinions so we know where everyone’s coming from, so we can fix the problem whether you’re for or against it.”
But the campaign exercise was just a simile for the real value of the Running & Winning workshop: meeting women serving at all levels of government, from local council members to state senators and legislators.
Councilwomen Kathy Horgan and Sharon Lee, of Red Bank, along with Joy Bastelli, of Long Branch, and Jennifer Piazza, of Eatontown, joined Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-11th District) and others as mentors to the high school juniors curious about the role of women in government.
Others were hesitant, grumbling that government is more corrupt than transparent. But the young women were willing to learn more about the political process.
“I’m willing to learn. I don’t think it’s a future I’d want to be in, politics, just because it’s a nasty environment, but I’d learn about it,” said Courtney Connolly, of Keyport High School.
Matthew agreed about the preconceptions that her peers have of government service, but realized that women in political life have a passion for change within their communities.
“It’s corrupt. All the political contributions, all the money involved, people going to jail because they’re accepting bribes, it’s just…” said a heated Matthew before trailing off and shaking her head.
“But the best advice we’ve gotten is that we shouldn’t run for political jobs unless we actually care about the town and what we’re actually running for. It shouldn’t be just for yourself to be a higher person in the world, it should be for the people,” she said.
Ashley Potter, of Middletown North High School, was able to go beyond the stereotypes and saw the day as an opportunity to learn more about the legislative environment.
“I think so far, the day has been really interesting. I’ve gotten to meet so many different people. I’ve seen so many different opinions, and it’s really a good diversity experience, getting more awareness of what is going on in the community. It’s a great learning experience,” said Potter.
“I think this program has definitely opened my eyes to it [politics], in a positive way. It’s definitely shown a lot of interesting things that I didn’t know that caught my eye. Maybe I can make a difference.”
MRHS teacher Janice Kroposky, who ran unsuccessfully for Eatontown Council last November, attended the workshop as a supervisor for the students.
“This event is really phenomenal. The young women who are selected to participate are going to be so empowered by the role models that they’re meeting and be encouraged to participate in society, and to effect change is going to be exciting for them,” she said.
Having the experience of running a campaign, Kroposky said it’s tough for women to break into government, where men are in the majority.
“There is a lot of sexism. Men tend to think that if you do have a family, that there is no way you can divide your time. But if you set priorities, you definitely can and fulfill your responsibilities in a meaningful way,” she said.
According to statistics from the Center forWomen in Politics at Rutgers University, only 35 women serve in New Jersey’s state Legislature, holding 29.2 percent of the available 120 seats. Gov. Chris Christie currently has six women in his cabinet, which represents 27.3 percent of his 22-member cabinet.
Furthermore, only 84, or 16.5 percent, of the 508 municipalities with populations of at least 30,000 have women as mayors, 11 of which are located in Monmouth County.
Considering these numbers, the most popular question students ask the women serving in government is, “Why did you decide to run for office?”
Bobbi Goldstein, co-chair of the Greater Red Bank Area League of Women Voters, said it is important to create a dialogue that shares stories illustrating how women have paved the way for younger generations.
“It’s essential that we try to stimulate that to happen, because the percentage is so much lower than men. And if they can get turned on as a result of this kind of a program and to go back and assume more leadership in their school or get involved in outside activities, hopefully it’ll carry on in the future,” said Goldstein.
“Most of these women in government have been with us since the beginning, and they enjoy coming back. They’re a parent, they’re a mother, and that’s just one of their roles. They seem to be able to do it.”
Like any other profession, Goldstein said, working in government requires a passion for change and the belief in making a difference. The workshop, she said, just might open the door to one.
The Greater Red Bank Area League of Women Voters initiated the Running & Winning workshop in 2007. The American Association of University Women-Northern Monmouth County Branch, the Junior League of Monmouth County and the Red Bank Chapter of Hadassah co-sponsored this year’s event.