At a Civics Day hosted by the non-profit organization Generation Citizen high school students from John O’Connell High School argued that David Campos’ push for a housing moratorium in the Mission was all wrong. And it won them an award.

The winning students were from a class on economics at John O’Connell.  Along with 17 other classrooms across San Francisco and the East Bay they presented their semester-long work on community issues to a panel of judges that included representatives from Google, Wells Fargo Bank, Chevron Corp., Microsoft, and the San Francisco Education Fund. The event was held at the Women’s Building.

The high school students said they used their knowledge of economics to come up with an affordable housing plan.

“We used things like supply and demand, and elasticity,” said 17-year-old student Aeris Velasco.

The students presented their action plan and emphasized that the root cause of not enough housing was policy and law.  Their goal (through a better understanding of the housing market) was to increase affordable housing.

Their ideas included raising the height limit for housing units in the Mission, pushing for the city to buy abandoned buildings to refurbish into affordable housing on, and to increase the 7% minimum affordable housing requirement for new developments.

John O'Connell High School students  presentation on affordable housing in the Mission.

John O’Connell High School students presentation on affordable housing in the Mission.

And not to “rat out” David Campos, but Velasco added that when Campos came to their class to speak and they asked him how the moratorium would help with affordable housing, they were not satisfied with his response.

“Time is crucial,” said Velasco, “And a moratorium is just a waste of time, [Campos] said if the moratorium went through, then the plan would come after.” But the students agreed that if the moratorium continued for two years, as his proposal suggested, it would only put them two years behind on a solution to affordable housing.

That was the reasoning, along with their comprehensive plan, that earned the group the “Grassroots Change” award presented by Generation Citizen founder Scott Warren.

Other topics that competed for the award ranged from child homelessness in San Francisco, to sex-trafficking in East Oakland.

Oakland’s Sankofa Middle School’s class chose sex-trafficking because several of the students in the class had personal experiences, and all felt connected to it after learning that the average age for someone entering sex-trafficking was between 12-14 years old.

Robyn Wilkes class said they plan on spending the summer bringing awareness about sex-trafficking in East Oakland, by forming a youth council, and asking local businesses to spread awareness through posters displayed in their business.  Their plan earned them a “Change Maker” award.

“I take the bus down International Ave. to the school, and I’m shocked by what I see,” said Maggie Tober about her experience in Oakland. Tober is a UC Berkeley student, and a Democracy Coach for Generation Citizen and Wilkes’ class.

Sankofa Middle School of Oakland's presentation on ending sex-trafficking in East Oakland.

Sankofa Middle School of Oakland’s presentation on ending sex-trafficking in East Oakland.

But how likely is it that students can make an impact on such broad topics in the course of one semester?

“Certain topics – housing – you can’t fix that in one semester, the city hasn’t been able to fix housing in years,” said Jessica Rojas, Democracy Coach for John O’Connell High School. Rojas said its just about understanding what’s happening. “They know their neighborhood is changing, but they didn’t understand the specifics. Now, they’re looking at it from an economic perspective.”

David Moren, Bay Area Site Director for Generation Citizen said it’s less about the finished product.

“It’s not whether they caught a fish or not, its did they learn how to fish?”

Generation Citizen’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter was formed in 2013, and this is the third Civics Day they’ve hosted.

Scott Warren, and Anna Ninna formed the non-profit while students at Brown University. Warren through his own experience in student organizing wanted to look for ways to get youth civically engaged.

Warren says he hopes that Generation Citizen is a pipeline to other community organizations that students can continue the work they began with them. “We’re the spark.”

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