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Two teens rally for constructive debate in Sarasota School Board meetings

Written by on Thursday, June 29, 2023

Over the past two years, adults fighting at Sarasota School Board meetings have often gone over the heads of the main subject of debate: the students. Now, two teenagers are trying to steer the debate into more productive channels.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: June 23, 2023


Official Transcript

Host: Over the past two years, adults have been fighting at Sarasota School Board meetings, often in overbearing, bullying, sometimes plain silly ways. Most of this went over the heads of the main subject of this whole debate: the students. Now, two teenagers have had it and they’re trying to steer the debate into more productive channels. Get ready for the two Sebastians, and join them at a workshop this Saturday 1pm at the Fogartyville Community Center near downtown Sarasota. Coming up now, the WSLR news team has more on this.

Sebastian Martinez is 18 years old. He graduated from Booker High when he was 16. He studied political science and international relations at Penn State University for a year. But watching polarized school board meetings back home and how his peers are affected by these politics, he decided to move back to Sarasota. Martinez is now continuing his studies online while raising awareness and trying to fix local issues. He believes much of the current debate is actually a distraction.

Sebastian Martinez: And what I felt was a lot of it is just distraction. There’s a lot of conversation around different issues that really aren’t as pertinent as they seem on either state or national media. I’m really concerned about issues like the lack of communication between the school district, the breakdown of communication between the Landings administrators, teachers and students, or teachers not having resources to teach their courses properly, or students not eating properly, or students not having access to transportation past certain times, which then bars them from being able to have access to after school clubs. Those are the issues that I see as a former graduated student, that I thought were the main core issues in our district.

Host: Meanwhile, Sebastian Girstl is a sophomore at Riverview High. He has also spoken up at school board meetings. In an op-ed published by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, he has blamed what he calls a liberal minority of distracting administrators, teachers and students from finding solutions to real problems at Sarasota public schools.

Martinez sees recent state legislation, book bans and anti LGBTQ measures as part of the problem. But he agrees with the other Sebastian that there are many, many more tangible problems that need immediate attention and are begging for solutions. Martinez says when he and Girstl hunkered down, they discovered they share most concerns.

SM: Sebastian Girstl and myself, we disagree on a whole lot of different issues. Or, well, we have different takes, different perspectives. We obviously have different, I guess, stories when it comes to our own lives, where we come from. Different experiences overall. So we see things differently. But what I learned through conversation with him, because I decided to sit down have conversations with him for about like an hour, or more than an hour. And we started talking about different issues that we felt were important in our school district. And what we ended up finding by the end of the conversation is that we actually agreed on about 95% of issues, or that we shared concerns in, but the only real difference was our approach to how to solve them, or what the core issue was to those problems.

But it was overall a really healthy conversation. I gained a lot of new perspective. I’m assuming he gained a lot of different perspective or insight as to how I think. And so, I guess we wanted to provide that same level of conversation, realization to our community, because there’s 47,000 students and our district gains nothing from infighting within people. We can’t have animosity or have extremely political school board meetings and expect to also address the real important issues to students.

Host: So the two Sebastian’s began to organize a State of Our Schools event. With the help of Support Our Schools, a local grassroots organization and Martinez’s own Sarasota Youth Association, they secured a venue and put together a workshop that tries to mobilize their peers with a focus on hands-on solutions. The event beginning at 1pm Saturday is divided into three segments. First, a local teacher will be teaching a workshop on how to develop an effective speech at school board meetings. The second workshop will allow participants to talk about what issues are important to them. And the third workshop will be about solutions to problems identified in the previous workshop. Martinez clarifies that the event is open not just to students but to everyone.

SM: Everyone, everyone’s welcome to come. This event is mainly geared towards anyone in our community: leaders, teachers, students, parents, grandparents, anyone who has an interest within education or education here in Sarasota.

Host: To be sure you, must hurry if you want to secure your free spot in the workshop. 70 people have already registered as a Friday morning and that is close to capacity of the Forgartyville Community Center. Again, this event is happening this Saturday from 1pm to 4pm. At the Forgartyville Community Center at 525 Kumquat Court, a few blocks north of downtown Sarasota.

For details and reservations, go to www.wslr.org/forgartyville, and click on the State of The School’s event at the top of the lineup.

This was Johannes Werner, reporting for WSLR News.


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