Mayor Bart Peterson's youth agenda includes topics such as community service, diversity and youth violence and addresses "many of the problems that affect (youth) directly and indirectly.''
As part of its mission to give youths a voice, Y-Press asked several Indianapolis schools to nominate students to interview Peterson regarding their concerns. In the first interview of this kind, the panel of students consisted of Cecily N. Foster, 10, and Teleses Ball, 10, of Indianapolis Public School 60; Max Geller, 11, Haley Smith, 9, Brian Sullivan, 15, and Patty Tryon , 14, of IPS' Key Learning Community; Trevor Roach, 10, and Joey Gaines, 11, of St. Michael School; and Gloria Turner, 15, and Brittany York, 15, of IPS' Shortridge Middle School.
Y-Press facilitated the interview, in which students questioned the mayor about issues relevant to their lives. A discussion was then held with the panelists to talk about Peterson's perspective.
As part of his plan to stay in touch with residents, Peterson is making efforts to communicate with the younger generation.
"I go around out into the community all of the time,'' he says, "and people on my staff go out into the community all of the time to listen. We go to schools and other places where there are young people, and we listen to what they have to say about the impact of city policies that have some effect on their lives.''
Recently, Peterson went a step beyond listening. In July, he held the first meeting of the Mayor's Youth Council, which he describes as "a formal mechanism for young people to be able to express their views and to be able to be genuine participants in the policy-making process here in Indianapolis.'' The youth council consists of 20 members from area high schools who will serve as advisers and youth liaisons for the mayor.
In his plan, Peterson devotes many pages to proposals furthering the involvement of the community in citywide volunteerism efforts. "A lot of people, not just young people, don't find community service interesting,'' he explains.
Part of his plan to raise interest in such activities includes offering creative service opportunities. He is quick to give the example of a community cleanup that preceded the NCAA's Final Four, in which 200 to 300 youths participated. "The cleanup took place, and then pizzas were donated, so there was a big pizza party out in the parking lot and there were games,'' he says.
The youth panelists understand why Peterson is trying to make community service more appealing. At the moment, it is not one of their priorities.
"If we just have a really bored day, which hardly ever happens, sometimes we pick up trash,'' says Joey. However, Brian agrees that there are merits to volunteering, observing that "most of the kids who actually do community service stay with it.''
"We are at a point now,'' says Peterson, "that the thing we have to emphasize is neighborhood integration -- how we can all work together and function together and live together, and we shouldn't be afraid of that kind of mixing.''
Peterson's efforts to foster diversity have included a race relations summit in January. He continues, "Diversity helps us live together effectively and peacefully, and it also makes our life more interesting.''
Brian agrees. "It just makes you more used to having different kinds of kids and different opinions.''
Peterson also is taking steps to assist the increasing Hispanic population in Indianapolis. He created the Commission on Latino Affairs to serve as a contact between him and the Hispanic community, and planned to hire bilingual police dispatchers and change municipal signs to include Spanish.
Some young people have witnessed the growing diversity in their communities.
"There's a lot of Hispanic people in my neighborhood,'' says Teleses. "I see a lot in the schools, too.''
"In my school,'' says Haley, "we have a couple of Mexicans. It's mostly Caucasian, and it's a little African-American, and they stay in groups.''
Cecily admits there is a lack of diversity in her neighborhood, but she sees more in her school.
During former Mayor Stephen Goldsmith's administration, parks in Indianapolis underwent extensive renovation. Peterson contends there are few programs in place to effectively use the new facilities.
"You see a lot of open space in parks in Indianapolis that nobody's using.
"There's nobody in them, and it's because there's nothing going on there,'' he explains. "So I want to spend more of the money that we've spent on buildings on programs within the parks. We're already starting to do that.''
One such program is the youth golf program, in which minors and any accompanying adults can play on city courses for $1 apiece.
Most young people recognize the gap between facilities and the programs necessary to fill them.
"People would use (parks) a lot more if there was stuff to do other than just having open fields and baseball diamonds,'' says Brian.
Joey says he'd be more likely to go to parks if they were cleaner.
"Me and my friends hardly ever go to the parks,''' he says. "A lot of people don't like to go because of all the trash.
"I would like to see sports programs,'' he suggests, adding that he would like to see cookouts and festivals, too.
Violent video games
Peterson's video game policies have gained much attention. Alarmed by the amount of violent messages and graphics in all media, he reached the conclusion that such forms of entertainment promoted youth violence.
However, he found that the only way that the city government could make an impact on the situation would be to target arcades where graphically violent video games are played. He since has enacted policies that deny permits to arcades unless they separate objectionable games and require parental supervision for users under 18.
"There are other issues,'' he admits, "but in my mind, this is one of those that does demand immediate attention.''
Some youths maintain, however, that Peterson should focus on other, more immediate issues.
"(Peterson) needs to get other programs for kids to keep them off the streets,'' says Joey. "He needs to worry about that instead of violent video games.''
Peterson believes the most dramatic effect of violence in the media can be seen in schools.
"When I was a kid,'' he says, "we had all the same social conditions that exist today that have caused these kids to go in these schools and shoot their classmates, but that never happened.''
He supports programs, such as anonymous gun-tip hotlines, that can help to eliminate such incidents and other violence.
But Haley, an elementary student, thinks security is still lacking.
"I really don't feel safe in my school. . . . I think they need alarms or something, or to lock the doors.''
Teleses does feel safe, however. "I do because almost everybody at the school I know, they're friendly. and the teachers are really nice.''
Peterson also pushes for character education, claiming, "Our schools have a responsibility to emphasize not just pure academics, but also citizenship.''
He feels character education will create a more secure environment by targeting problems that often lead to fights. Peterson has attempted to gain popularity for these programs by publicizing successful ones, such as the ban on swearing at Southport High School.
"Most fights start with fighting words, and swear words are usually the kind of fighting words that are used,'' he said. "If you crack down and eliminate the use of fighting words, you're going to reduce the amount of fighting.''
In a society where children bring guns to school and, as many panelists mentioned, fights are a daily occurrence, ensuring student safety and minimizing violence are important issues.
Many students agree.
"Yes, I do think (a ban on cursing) would reduce violence because usually if someone cusses at another person, they'll get real mad and start throwing stuff at them,'' Teleses says.
But Brian worries that "most teachers don't hear kids cussing'' and might have a hard time addressing the problem.
Addressing the right issues
But youth-related topics are, in reality, different from the topics about which youths are concerned. When asked what issues they think are important, panelists mention video games and school fights, but also a variety of other problems.
"There have been some little gangs going around my house just trying to make trouble,'' Joey complains.
"One of my Number one issues,'' says Brian, "has got to be transportation, being able to get around the city and outside of the city by bus. You just don't see that happening.''
Haley is worried about air pollution, and Teleses says "drugs also need to be thought about -- a whole bunch of people are using them.''
ASSISTANT EDITORS: Jacob Pactor, 18, and Drew Reissaus, 15.
REPORTERS: Evan Daniluck, 13; Maria Srour, 12; and Zach Tuchman, 12.