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Building a Stronger San Antonio by Lifting the Voices of our Youth

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In 2017, when my son Marcos was in 7th grade at the Advanced Learning Academy, he was selected to present at the statewide civics fair Speak Up Speak Out. This was the second time his team was selected for state finals, and after his 5th grade experience my typically quiet son had been bursting with enthusiasm about his experience.

 

Being a curious sort of mom, I decided to chaperone to see firsthand. 

 

What I saw was hoards of young people, dressed in their best clothes, filing into the beautiful Texas Capitol pink dome, sharing looks of awe, huddling in the hallways to cram in final practice rounds before they presented to panels of civic leaders from government, business and nonprofits. Speak Up Speak Out asks students to identify something in their local community they want to improve, and to propose a solution.

 

In our room, adult judges leaned forward intently as a group of high school students offered creative ideas about how to solve Austin’s persistent parking challenges. The judges were engaged, and offered thoughtful feedback to all student teams, but as we drove back down I-35, I wondered if there was an opportunity to create a regional fair where San Antonio students could present their ideas not only to statewide leaders, but to leaders from San Antonio who might share harbor similar concerns.

 

Six years later, CAST Schools partners with UT Annette Strauss and Texas A&M San Antonio to present the annual San Antonio regional fair, open to all local public and private schools. Mayor Ron Nirenberg is a huge champion, and he and his wife Erika Prosper have alternated as our annual keynote speaker. Excitingly, a growing number of schools participate in both the local and state civics fair; last year, Democracy Prep joined Speak Up Speak Out for the first time and won the statewide elementary school award in Austin. This year, we welcome new schools Salado Elementary in East Central and Burbank High School in San Antonio ISD, among others.

 

When we go to the Capitol each year, we hear visitors murmur, “what is happening in San Antonio”? It warms my heart to know that our city is earning a name for youth civic engagement. The Dallas, Austin and Houston areas all now host regional fairs.

 

 

We opened our 6th annual Speak Up Speak Out season at East Central High School’s Patterson Performing Arts Center. Dalia Contreras, CEO of City Education Partner, reflected upon her journey of a life defined by speaking up, and speaking out, in words and actions. She recalled growing up on San Antonio’s West Side as a Spanish speaker, and how the juxtaposition of joy and x shaped her ability to hold two things in this world at the same time. “Your truth and my truth can coexist,” she told the students, “it’s up to us to make safety and space for those conversations.”

 

CAST Schools could not be more committed to the idea of supporting young people to lift their voices in support of building a stronger San Antonio. Last year, supporters of our 3 Big Events – Speak Up Speak Out, the Youth Rally, and our Summer Studio – included CPS Energy, H-E-B, H.E.Butt Foundation, Up Partnership, HOLT CAT, Frost Bank, T. Donovan Creative, Firstmark Credit Union and The SAVE Clinic.

 

Jeanne Russell

Executive Director

CAST Schools

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