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Savvy students question Wyden on Middle East and more

U.S. Senator grilled by FGHS teens on array of world and national issues

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Students discussed U.S. Sen. Ron Wydens town hall last Friday in their advanced placement government class with teacher Laura Lewis. Overall, they were excited by the opportunity to participate and pleased with Wydens responses. Tell Forest Grove teenagers to pop their most pressing questions to a U.S Senator and be prepared for more than the predictable topic of college costs or education legislation.

At a town-hall meeting with Sen. Ron Wyden at Forest Grove High School last Friday, Jan. 15, students asked about the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Affordable Care Act and war in the Middle East.

Members of the public and students in FGHS’s advanced placement government, social studies and leadership classes all attended the town hall. Each year, Wyden holds town meetings in each of Oregon’s 36 counties.

Nathaniel Torry-Schrag kicked things off by asking Wyden what he thought of President Barrack Obama’s pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. Wyden said he thought the prison did not “reflect American values” and said it should be closed. He thinks other high-security prisons in the U.S. could accommodate Guantanamo’s detainees if necessary.

Next, FGHS student Abby Aguirre asked Wyden about the increasingly unreasonable costs of college. Wyden responded with comments about the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which gives families a tax cut of $10,000 over four years to help pay for college. Wyden also pitched the Know Before You Go act, which forces schools to provide greater access to information for potential students such as post-graduation average annual earnings; graduation rates; and average cost before and after financial aid.

After the meeting, Aguirre said she wasn’t wholly satisfied with Wyden’s answer because she already knew of these resources.

FGHS senior Viviana Bruno, daughter of a fully disabled veteran, also asked about college affordability. Because of her dad’s status, Bruno qualifies to receive free tuition for Oregon state schools. But Bruno is looking at schools in California, where she said she’s found schools that would better accommodate both her passions — dance and engineering.

Wyden told Aguirre he would support national tuition remission for students of disabled veterans since they served their country, not just one state. Bruno said she would welcome communication from Wyden and his staff, who pledged to take her email and help her find resources to pay for college.

FGHS senior Sam Shippey asked the senator about the Affordable Care Act because he said he knows many who are affected negatively by it. Shippey has known friends and coworkers who are young, healthy, part-time workers that are not insured through their work, and then penalized because they cannot afford health insurance, he said. “They have to pay a lot of money and they’re not getting anything out of it and they just have problems with it,” Shippey said.

Shippey was pleased with Wyden’s remarks about keeping the cost of healthcare and prescriptions affordable, but would’ve liked to have heard a more complete answer to the other portion of his question — how to do that.

FGHS senior Eli Gale asked Wyden what he thought of Obama’s request to Congress for a vote on using force against ISIL, the terrorist group that took over parts of Iraq and Syria. “If this Congress is serious about winning this war and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL. Take a vote,” Obama said in his State of the Union speech last Tuesday.

Gale considers himself fairly well informed and keeps up with current events by reading the newspaper and watching television. He said he’s always been particularly interested in policies concerning the Middle East, as the U.S. has been at war nearly his whole life.

In addition, Gale said he grew up listening to his parents debate whether the U.S. should remove the troops from Middle Eastern countries, which piqued his interest in the matter.

Gale appreciates that Wyden has historically been an opponent of “expensive and long-lasting wars,” he said. Gale was satisfied overall with the town hall and thought Wyden’s answers were well rounded.

The students in Laura Lewis’s AP Government class said after the event they appreciated Wyden bringing up his support for Planned Parenthood. The students agreed the high school’s health curriculum does not adequately teach kids about sexual health, pregnancy and contraceptive options. “It’s important that contraceptives are available to people without a lot of money,” Aguirre said.

Lilly Mejia, FGHS representative to the Forest Grove School Board, said she’s working to get contraceptives in the district’s health clinic. She feels since the schools and teachers are there to educate students, they should make such an important issue a priority for young people.

Right now, said Alex Houger, most kids turn to the Internet for questions they have about sex.

Stacy Garcia agreed. “We don’t see the school as a resource.”