Members of Vashon’s Teen Council, with facilitators Kyle Britz and Tracy McLaren, at the state capitol last week. (Courtesy photo)

Members of Vashon’s Teen Council, with facilitators Kyle Britz and Tracy McLaren, at the state capitol last week. (Courtesy photo)

Teen Council takes its message to Olympia

The students met with Sen. Joe Nguyen, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon and an assistant to Rep. Eileen Cody

On Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Day, six VHS students traveled to Olympia representing Vashon’s Teen Council for this year’s Lobby Day — a trip the council has made three years running.

Teens Griffin Towns, Aiden Rees, Fiona Westphal, Roswell Rainwater, Sequoia Gregorich and Lucas Schoenberg, along with council facilitators Tracy McLaren and Kyle Britz, met with 34th-District legislators and staff to discuss issues surrounding reproductive health.

The council, a 25-year-old Planned Parenthood program now in its third year on Vashon, is facilitated and supported by the DOVE Project and is comprised of high school-age student volunteers who are trained to educate their peers in the areas of sexual health and relationships through the Planned Parenthood Teen Council curriculum. Areas of educational emphasis include HIV/AIDS, harassment, healthy relationships, delaying sex, family communication, multicultural awareness, diversity, racism, domestic violence and consent.

“It’s far more than sex ed,” McLaren told The Beachcomber in 2016, when the program began.

The students met with Sen. Joe Nguyen, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon and an assistant to Rep. Eileen Cody to discuss reproductive health, specifically as it relates to three bills currently under consideration by the Legislature: Reproductive health access for all (an expansion of a bill that was passed last year), confidentiality in insurance communication and sex education for all Washington youth. Specifics included the need for those who are transgender to get the reproductive health care they need, and support for teen privacy in health insurance communications as well as state mandated sex education. While the Vashon Island School District includes sex ed in its health class curriculums at the middle and high schools, it is not mandatory in Washington, and there are districts/schools where it is not offered.

McLaren added that while Lobby Day is an important event for the council, members are still fulfilling the day-to-day mission of teaching sexual health and education in Vashon schools.

“They just finished teaching seventh- and eighth-grade healthy living classes at McMurray, with a focus on healthy relationships and sexual identity,” she said. “Coming up this spring they will teach the same class for the sixth-graders.”

Also on deck for the peer educators is a collaborative effort with the high school-based Neighborcare clinic: an assembly on the subject of sexually transmitted infections.

Gregorich provided The Beachcomber this statement on behalf of the Teen Council about its Lobby Day experience:

“Teen Council Lobby Day was a day that each and every student (including myself) will never forget. The organized efforts put on by Planned Parenthood made for an experience that was both moving and fun.

Lobby Day offered an opportunity to remind TC members how influential their voices and work can be. We met other teens and adults from all around the state who had varying backgrounds and who were all affected by the legislation we were fighting for. Plus we stayed with host families who have been hosting teens for many years now. They, too, spoke of how meaningful this event was, and that they wanted to help make sure it carried on. Other validation and support of course came from House representatives, senators and other government officials. Senator Claire Wilson even told the students attending that she was in office partly because ‘I am holding a place for you.’

These two days were beyond anything I could have hoped for. It is rare that we as teenagers — many of whom cannot vote yet — have an opportunity to make a difference in the government. It was a reminder that student voices matter.”

— Sarah Low

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