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Contest Winners #233
What changes do you want the incoming president to make?
Writing Contest Winners

1st Prize
Fewer Prisoners and Less College Debt

Victoria Solkovits, 17, Northridge, CA
I believe the component of the American system that needs the most repair is the criminal justice system. It is crippled by corruption and restricts people from being able to advance in society. Another major issue is the cost of college education. I have seen how the outrageous hike in college tuition has affected families, including my own, and how student loans may jeopardize my future before I even start college. These are two issues that those in office need to target.

Our prisons are overcrowded and lack basic funding. One in every 15 African-American men is incarcerated, compared to one in every 106 Caucasians, showing a bias that is still present in American society more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed.

Furthermore, mandatory minimum sentencing is forcing judges to send nonviolent criminals to already overcrowded prisons. Lastly, the lack of rehabilitation and preparation programs in our prisons makes it next to impossible for freed prisoners to readjust to society. Without strong job training programs and incentives for local companies to hire ex-convicts, prisoners who have served their time are more likely to end up back in jail than to stay free.

There are many ways those in power can work to change this. For example, there are currently several bills in Congress to reform mandatory minimums. Additionally, the next president can issue mandates allocating funding for education and rehabilitation programs in federal penitentiaries. Our leaders must band together to help those with no voice.

In my own family, the broken pieces of the college system in this country have left their mark. I have two older brothers; both graduated from college over five years ago. My parents are still paying back hefty loans that don’t seem to get lower. I am lucky to have gotten into one of the top public universities in the nation, but before I even step on campus I have been told that I should expect to graduate $22,000 in debt. We are a middle-class family, but due to the limitations of federal funding and grant aid, we are expected to cover the entire cost of college ourselves. With tuition and room and board, that’s $34,000 a year.

Those in office should appropriate more funding to public institutions and give more aid to students. They should also introduce a loan forgiveness program for students who are still in debt more than a decade after their graduation. Only then will the American education system begin to resemble what it used to.

2nd Prize
Justice for Young Black Men

Benjamin Lee, 18, Jacksonville, FL

The biggest challenge our next president will face is racism. If not handled with open hearts and minds, this issue can send this country to its death.

The racial disparity in this country is just as prevalent now as it was during the days of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. As African-Americans in the United States continue to cry out for justice, I, as a 19-year-old black male, have to wonder if I’m safe anywhere other than at home. It seems that what many in this country fail to realize is that not all black people are violent, uneducated, uncaring, lazy thugs.

Yes, I’m from “the hood,” but my parents raised me right. I’ve been an honor student most of my life and graduated high school this past spring. I want to be a neurologist, and I believe I can be anybody, do anything, and go anywhere my heart’s desire may take me.

There are many just like me from urban Jacksonville, Florida, with similar aspirations who are not looking for the latest drug deal or plotting the latest scheme to kill, steal, or destroy. Yet, here it is 2016, and black men are not being given the benefit of the doubt before being brutally gunned down by the very ones who are supposed to protect us.

I agree that there is too much black-on-black crime in this country. However, who are the lawful African-Americans to call on when they’re in need? No longer can my mother just say, “call the police,” because it may mean her neighbor’s son, her sister’s son, or maybe one of her own five sons will lose their lives because of the color of their skin under the guise of “I felt threatened.”

Have you paid any attention in the last few years alone? Trayvon Martin (no conviction), Sandra Bland (no conviction), Sean Bell (no conviction), Eric Garner (no conviction), Rekia Boyd (no conviction), Amadou Diallo (no conviction), Mike Brown, (no conviction), Kimani Gray (no conviction), Kenneth Chamberlain (no conviction), Travares McGill (no conviction), Tamir Rice (no conviction), Aiyana Stanley-Jones (no conviction) Freddie Gray (no conviction) and more recently Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the jury’s still out on the latter two.

Do I believe that all lives matter? Indeed I do. But if all lives matter, why do the ones being slaughtered look mostly like me?

3rd Prize
Fairer Funding for Schools

Sarah Xu, 16, Old Greenwich, CT

With Hillary Clinton employing a logo that urges America forward and Donald Trump using a motto that promotes moving America backward, it is clear that the major presidential candidates have different visions for America’s future. Each candidate has emphasized different flaws in our social, political, and economic systems. A broken system that neither candidate has addressed enough is our K-12 public education.

Public education is an issue that doesn’t affect the community of the affluent town I live in, but does impact the larger community of my state. That’s the problem: A country that espouses a narrative of hard work leading to success should not have inequality of opportunity. Every child in America deserves an education and to be offered opportunities that propel them to success.

Currently, this is not happening. Our system of localized funding results in great disparities between the quality of education in wealthy and poor areas. Many poor students need the help of private initiatives, such as YES Scholars and Equal Opportunity Schools, to get into college. These programs are doing great work, but they can’t reach every poor student.

The way we fund public schools needs to change. One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that increasing education spending by 10% in low-income districts resulted in students staying in school longer, earning 7.25% more, and being less likely to be poor.

Other changes to increase the general quality of education should be made as well. This includes increasing the training of teachers and introducing more technology into the classroom. By improving and equalizing our K-12 education system, we can capitalize on America’s potential and hold truer to American ideals.

Runners Up
Focus on Sex Ed

Elsie Jorgensen, 18, Eau Claire, MI

The next president has the opportunity to make many changes to America in the next four years. Sex education is often an overlooked issue that deserves more attention.

I just graduated from a small school. My graduating class had fewer than 60 people, yet more than five of them had become pregnant or fathered a child. Similar trends can be found in other classes.

Sex education at my school consists of preaching abstinence and discussing the effects of sexually transmitted diseases. This approach is not working.

“Abstinence only” ignores an aspect of teen behavior: When we’re curious about something we try it. However, many do not know the risks associated with even oral sex. If teens are informed about sex and precautions to take when having it, such as the proper way to use a condom, they can make informed decisions.

But sex education shouldn’t just be about how to properly use condoms and other types of birth control. It should also teach about sexual harassment and assault. When children are young they should be taught the difference between a good touch and a bad touch. As they get older this can expand into how to deal with inappropriate advances and teaching that no means no.

Many say that sex education is up to the discretion of the parents. However, some parents feel uncomfortable discussing sex with their children. I’d like to see trained professionals travel from school to school, making sex education less of a class and more of a special presentation.

Equal Rights for Women

Emily Orshinsky, 18, Jacksonville, FL

“Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” Hillary Clinton uttered these words for the first time in 1995, at the United Nations Fourth World Congress on Women in Beijing, China. Now, 21 years later, women are still paid significantly less than their male coworkers for performing the same job. A woman’s right to make decisions about her own body is still widely criticized and debated over, mainly by white, privileged men. Although we make up just over half the population of the United States, we’re still underrepresented in congress, a body of representatives that is meant to reflect the people.

Still, I don’t believe that our system is broken. I do, however, believe that it needs to updated. Our nation has progressed over time, but unfortunately our government has been much slower than the rest of the population.

While this can’t completely be done by the President, the biggest change I want to see is the addition of an Equal Right’s Amendment (ERA) into the Constitution. The original ERA was introduced in 1923, and sat in Congress until it failed to be ratified in June of 1982. Right now, there is nothing in our Constitution that protects an individual based on their gender. This law would not only help protect cisgender people, but transgender people as well.

Contest #233 - Honorable Mentions
Amie Armstrong, Victoria Baudendistel, Cooper Budt, Jonathan Carpenter, Amber Colbert, Tanner Coughenour, Ja-Niera Dale, Coral Davids, Daniel de la Cruz, Sarah Goodman, Jade Grimes, Marini J. Harris, Addison Harvey, Jacob Hightower, Jonathan Hoang, Lena Hu, Markayla Johnson, Chelsea Labay, Benjamin Lee, Brianna Lupton, Siddharth Marwaha, Taylor Meyer, Jacqueline Mickle, Renee Moody, Lydia Pack, Shaye Parker, Brenna Rhiness, Carlos Ricoveri, Tyler Robbins, Jacqueline Rocha, Aleigh Rowe, Braeden Sagehorn, Sharon Simpson, Kaley Smith, Victoria Solkovits, Jacob Spencer, Evan Phelan Sventek, Nadja Zakula-Kostadinova, Tyler Zanoni, Serena Zets.

Thank you to all the 326 students who entered this issue’s contest!

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