On Thursday, June 19th, the Zero Tolerance Youth Program celebrated the end of their 2013-2014 year. The Zero Tolerance Youth Program is a program that has been around since 2011, and promotes leadership skills and communication to students citywide.
The goal of the program is to turn students into leaders; to help them step out of their comfort zones and speak out on what’s important.
“I realised that I affected the community, even though I was just a freshman starting High School. It is possible to affect your community…no matter how small the effect,” says Ryan White, one of the oldest members now graduating from the program as he reflects on his journey as a member of the Zero Tolerance Youth Program.
The Zero Tolerance Youth Program mainly focuses on the injustices that occur in the school environment. Zero Tolerance programs in schools are widely known and criticised for being too harsh and unfair. In a study conducted by The Vera Institute of Justice, a majority of suspensions and expulsions are for insubordination, or ‘willful defiance’. The injustice occurs greatly in schools nationwide. And it is even worse for black and latino youth, who are suspended nearly 2-4 times more than students of caucasian descent. The Zero Tolerance programs were created in order to respond to students caught with a weapon of any kind on school grounds. However, in recent years, only 5 percent of students nationwide were suspended or expelled involving the possession of a weapon, while 43 percent is associated with insubordination.
The Zero Tolerance Youth Leadership team has conducted and performed many speeches, performances, presentations, and legislative talks on the condition of punishment procedures done in schools. Last year, the Zero Tolerance Youth Leadership team collected over 15,000 signatures to Governor Jerry Brown in order to fight the zero tolerance youth program. They urged for a change in discipline utilized in schools, and asked for a law to be passed in order to make teachers no longer able to use “willful defiance” as a reason to suspend or expel a student.
The program also helped produce The Cornerstone Theater Company’s production of “Talk it Out: A Community Conversation to Fix School Discipline”. The production was a short play that was based on the real experiences of Sacramento students and their experiences in the school environment. During intermission, sessions were inducted to incite constructive feedback and opinions from the parents who watched the performance.
It turns out that most parents were shocked and surprised to see such treatment going on in schools. The parents were ill informed and unaware of the treatment that their students faced in the classroom.
“These are real issues that we face as students,” says Erik Harrell, another graduating senior of the program states on the condition of punishment in schools.