ThreeSixty Journalism: What happens at all those parties?

THREESIXTY JOURNALISM

With the Republican National Convention in town last week, there were hundreds of different receptions and parties all across the Twin Cities. Most of them were closed to the public. What really goes on inside one of these receptions? Members of the ThreeSixty Journalism staff were recently invited to attend a reception held by Best Buy at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. Here’s what we learned.

Outside the main doors of the museum, there was a sign stating that the museum would be closed to the public for all four days of the Republican National Convention. Inside, there were pre-printed name badges at a sign-in table and the soft sound of a live band. In the main reception area, several dozen men and women in suits and dresses mingled while servers carrying trays walked between them offering delicacies. When we left, there were canvas bags with goodies, including a Best Buy gift card.

The reception was for @15, a new Best Buy program that aims to ask teens for their views and donate money to programs that serve teens between the ages of 13 and 17. Several representatives of Best Buy were there, including its CEO Brad Anderson. So were people and teens from organizations that serve teens, including Christo Rey High School in Minneapolis and Urban Ventures, which helps young entrepreneurs with $1,000 grants.

Minnesota Congressman John Kline and several Republican delegates were also there. It was a great place for ThreeSixty reporters to ask them what they think about issues that matter a lot to teens.

So between the food — including a smoothie station, mac and cheese and fancier stuff like shrimp and asparagus — and watching a looped feature video created by Best Buy about @15, we mingled and asked questions. Here’s what we heard:

Teen jobs
Because the job market for teens is so bad, some analysts say the federal government should help create jobs for low-income kids in depressed neighborhoods to help provide income and job experience.

Most of the people interviewed seemed to think that it is not the federal government’s job to deal with unemployment, but rather a local community effort.

Brad Anderson, CEO of Best Buy, put it this way, “We need businesses to be providing job opportunities to help kids work in our environment. Efforts like that come from the heart and passion from the leadership of the city, not from the federal government.”

People did say that the federal government could contribute by offering incentives and funds, since they have the resources. David Gencarelli, who works for Best Buy’s government relations office, said, “The efficient way would be if it was done locally, with a federal grant helping states.”

John Turnipseed, director of the Family Center at Urban Ventures, doesn’t think a more basic problem is being addressed.

“You got to teach these kids how to work,” he said. “I’d rather have more character-building and work skills taught before creating more jobs. Suburban kids are simply better prepared to work. The government has already tried providing jobs to low-income people a long time ago, with CETA, but it turned out to be a failed experiment wasting lots of money.”

Teens had their say regarding the issue. Alison Walkins, 18, from Urban Ventures, agreed that the shortage of jobs was a big problem. “It’s hard to find a good-paying job, living in a poor city,” she said.

Her friend, Lindsey Adelmann, also from Urban Ventures, thought so, too. “If more good jobs were offered to teens, it could help out of poor living situations by providing more income.”

The bad job market is not the only problem that teens today face, though. When asked about the most serious problem among teenagers these days, I got a wide variety of responses. Some thought that the problem was rooted in families. As Adelmann put it, “Parents aren’t involved enough with their kids. A bad home life causes insecurities, which leads to bad grades, drugs, and many other problems.”

Gina Blayley, president of Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest, said, “The biggest problem is the lack of awareness of global economy. Young people don’t understand the competitive landscape among people throughout the world. If they understood, it would motivate them to get the best education possible.” — Lisa Fan

Schools
The public education system is not perfect, and at times it really struggles. So what can be done to revitalize the education system?

The K-12 public education has long struggled to gain adequate funding, said Mark-Peter Lindquist of Urban Ventures. “If we have the ability to sink trillions of dollars into the war, we have the ability to sink trillions of dollars into the education system,” he said.

Mike Davey, organizing director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, criticized the way Minnesota funds education through property taxes.

“Property taxes [are] a terrible way to fund schools because you have the huge inequity of the rich districts versus the poor districts,” he said. “When you go to suburban communities their homes are worth twice [or] three times as much as homes in other districts.”

“Be focused on teacher morale and teacher support,” explained Joe Cavanaugh, another guest at the event. Many guests thought that better pay for teachers would help make clear that teachers are some of the most important government employees.

The general consensus seemed to be that there is plenty of room for improvement. As Chris Roy, a Republican delegate from Vermont explained, “the role of states is to…set the standards and make sure that every kid is getting the opportunity that they need.” It does not seem like the government is providing that, he said.

—Leah Sorensen

Addressing the achievement gap
Ideas for closing the graduation gap between African-American and white students were hard for people to come up with.

Of the five people interviewed, only Minnesota Congressman John Kline had a suggestion. He said a lot of minorities live in inner cities and grow up in broken families and aren’t necessarily given the opportunities that people that live in the suburbs get.

“We need to open up choices to parents so they can move their children to a better school so they can get the education they deserve,” said Kline.

He said they tried this in the District of Columbia and it had great results. “This is not the only answer to the problem,” he said. — Cory Weaver

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