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posted: 3/29/2010 12:01 AM

Students giving lessons in democracy

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Sixth-grader Ryan Patterson, high school sophomore Spencer Armstrong and college junior Stacey Stolz all may be good students in school but they also realize that community responsibility goes beyond the classroom.

All three have taken it upon themselves to fight for a cause important to them - their education and the education of others. And in the process they could teach a thing or two to their adult counterparts who get involved in protests and rallies for causes important to them but stray into name-calling and other detrimental behavior.

At just 11, Patterson organized his friends at Glenside Middle School in Glendale Heights to rally in support of the 52 teachers who are losing their jobs with Queen Bee Elementary District 16 at the end of the school year.

"They want the school board, the state and the teachers to know that they back the teachers," said Ryan's mother, Tara Patterson, to the Daily Herald's Robert Sanchez in a Saturday article. "They also want people to know that they have a voice, too. This is their future that's being messed with."

We are not taking a stand on whether Ryan and his mom are correct or if District 16 is correct that these moves are necessary in the face of a $600,000 to $2.1 million budget deficit because of what the state may end up owing them in delayed payments. What we are impressed with, however, is Ryan's need to get involved, even at such a young age. While the state of education in Illinois is definitely up for debate as districts throughout the state and in the suburbs are heavily cutting teachers and programs because of the state's budgetary woes, it gives us hope that students also are learning outside the classroom that it's important to stand up respectfully and get your voice heard.

That's what 16-year-old Spencer Armstrong did at Maine West High School when he found out that the fencing program he was involved with was on the chopping block. He formed a Facebook group, he spoke to the school board and he worked with his teammates to take out newspaper ads protesting the move. And beyond the protests, he worked to figure out ways to get the funds to save fencing as a varsity sport.

His efforts were rewarded when the Maine Township High School District 207 board removed it from the list of cuts.

A similar effort is under way at several school districts to save music programs. Again, students and former students are at the forefront of the efforts.

"I'm at the point where I am sharing what I learned from (Indian Prairie Unit District 204) at my university," said Stolz, a 2007 Waubonsie Valley High School graduate who is helping to organize support for the music programs in the district's lower levels. "I wouldn't be able to do it without the level of education I had growing up."

And the education they are giving back to those schools is indeed praiseworthy.