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Proposed legislation would ensure that youths from all over work with agencies on rules and laws that impact them.

COURTESY PHOTO - Alejandra Lopez Nestor is a senior at Warrenton High SchoolMost Oregonians would agree that for lawmakers to craft effective laws, it is important they work with the people whose lives they intend to change. But when it comes to education, students are too often left out.

House Bill 4099, the Racial Equity and Justice Youth Collaborative (REJYC), seeks to elevate the voices of Oregon students across the state in the policymaking process. The bill will enable youth, specifically those from historically underrepresented communities, to work with state agencies like the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education to provide recommendations on educational policy to better meet the needs of youth today. COURTESY PHOTO - Ji Reichle is a senior at Lake Oswego High School

As youth advocates supporting this legislation, our belief is that students should be actively involved in the policy-making process as the HB4099 outlines, and further, that the inclusion of youth outside of the traditional public education system should be represented as well.

We envision the proposed collaborative to benefit Oregon youth in many ways, but the concept has three key aspects: diverse geographic representation in policy recommendations, development opportunities for underserved and underrepresented students and youths, and elevated youth voice in Oregon. COURTESY PHOTO - Raymond Arias is a 2021 graduate of Tualatin High School

Youth across Oregon have diverse experiences, identities and backgrounds. Still, the needs of youth from big cities are often prioritized while students from rural areas are left behind.

As the daughter of immigrants from Guatemala and Mexico in a rural area, Alejandra has seen firsthand how her background has given her a drastically different experience from her peers.

The legislation focuses on geographic diversity across Oregon, ensuring that students have a voice and can advocate for policy at a state level that represents their unique perspective.

Advocating for legislation that suits our needs is how we as young people can enhance equity at the state level and improve the future for generations to come.

By implementing this proposal in Oregon, we are not only enabling, but encouraging youth to be change-makers. The collaborative would support young leaders by having mentors of diverse personal and professional backgrounds serve as resources to the council.

In Ji's experiences in the Lake Oswego School District, she has directly benefited from mentors and support systems in her life. By having a support system built into the collaborative, we will inspire students to continue participating in the policymaking process and help them shape their future. Consequently, we are promising a better future for Oregon and all future students.

HB 4099 gives youth the power to directly help our public schools rebuild after a year and a half of isolation. As someone who has a little brother entering kindergarten next school year, Raymond knows it would be valuable to have the collaborative to not only help uplift our current students through policy intended to serve them, but also for the coming generation of young Oregonians.

Elevating the concerns and needs of youth directly from the source, the collaborative can develop and improve policies that aid them, using their voices to help Oregon work towards recovery for the communities that have been most affected by COVID-19. It's a model that is truly for youth and by youth.

The collaborative will empower youth to use their voices for the future of our state while also liaising back to their communities to share the resources Oregon can offer. Please join us in supporting HB 4099 during the 2022 Legislative Session.

Alejandra Lopez Nestor is a senior at Warrenton High School. Ji Reichle is a senior at Lake Oswego High School. Raymond Arias is a 2021 graduate of Tualatin High School.

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