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Gresham's first student-led discussion helps guide city's vision for future of community

OUTLOOK PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - About 80 local high school students came together for the first Gresham Youth Summit.During a discussion at Gresham's first-ever Youth Summit, local high school students shared their thoughts and concerns about a variety of topics, including school shootings.

"People aren't caring about others, just themselves," one student told Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis during the summit. "These shootings could happen to anyone, anywhere."

The summit, which was held Tuesday afternoon, May 29, at the Gresham Council Chambers, 1331 N.W. Eastman Parkway, allowed almost 80 high schoolers to discuss safety in schools, bullying and technology. The information will help guide Gresham leadership as it comes up with community policies.

"We have a laser focus on children and families right now in Gresham," Bemis said. "Given the national focus on youth voices, this seemed an opportune moment to connect with the young people in our community to hear their thoughts on issues that matter to them."

While the majority of the summit allowed students to voice their opinions, technology was also used to get a better sense of the group's thoughts. The youths could vote via a live-polling website to answer questions posed by Bemis, who moderated the discussion. Through his involvement with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Bemis will also lead a national task force on youth involvement, which launches this year.

"We have worked really hard to let you have your voices be heard," Bemis said. "It wasn't that long ago I was sitting in this room like you, and now they gave me the keys to the place."

School safety

The longest discussion focused on school safety — specifically on how the youths felt about school shootings. As of the summit, there have been 23 school shootings across the country this year, which averages to about one a week.

One student said he didn't think a shooting would occur at his school, while another added that the fears should be directed at what is happening to students outside of the classroom. When asked, the vast majority of the students said they had a mental plan for what to do if a shooting occurred at their school.

Many in the group were frustrated that "it's all talk but no action," when it comes to dealing with school shootings and wished more people their age would get involved through methods like voting, and didn't think older generations understood what it's like dealing with the violence.

"There is a lot you all can do to move the needle," Bemis said. "It's an important time right now for your age group."

Some of the kids said they would like to improve protocols for what to do if a school shooting began, and students from Centennial High School said there is a disturbing trend of people starting false rumors on social media about an attack on their school.

During the online polling, the students voted that social media and bullying were the biggest cause of school shootings. That choice beat out other options like gun ownership and violence in film and video games.

Bullying and technology

The summit concluded with discussions about bullying and how technology will continue to grow and affect the future of jobs and education.

According to a study, about 20 percent of Oregon high school students reported being bullied in the month of May. Those numbers only count those who feel comfortable enough to voice their problems.

After conducting a similar poll during the youth summit, about half of the students said at one point they had been bullied in high school. The types of bullying range from social, cyber and physical. The students also agreed that bullying often occurs to those who don't fit the mold of a typical high schooler.

The students at the summit also were excited to learn about the new technology expected to become widespread in the coming years.

"Our adoption of new technology is happening at a faster rate," said Becky Steckler, sustainable cities program manager with the University of Oregon.

Steckler predicted that many modes of transportation will be autonomously operated, from cars and buses to delivery trucks. Buying and selling goods online will continue to become more popular, resulting in brick and mortar stores fading away at a quicker rate.

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