By: Sharon Aron Baron
The Eight Annual Teen Political Forum had such a large attendance on Monday night that over 300 students had to be turned away and many were standing at the Center for the Arts.
This was a far cry from the first Teen Political Forum in 2007 where only 800 students attended. This year, the 1,459 seats at the center were filled to capacity.
Chair of the forum, Vice Mayor Larry Vignola, said the committee spent four months working on the event, was amazed by the turn out. “It was awesome. I had kids call and tell me it was trending on Twitter.”
Former Coral Springs Mayor who created the first Teen Political Forum, was also thrilled with the turnout and believes that it bridges the gap between students and elected officials.
“I’m so happy about this. There’s now over 1,400 students that know who their elected officials are.” Can you imagine that the city center is too small to now hold this event?”
Students attending J.P. Taravella, Coral Glades High School, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, Coral Springs Christian Academy, Coral Springs Charter and all private schools were invited to attend.
Waste Pro even donated a check for $1,000 to the school that had the greatest attendance. Coral Glades High School won this year with 430 students, beating out Coral Springs Charter School by 50.
Student speaker was Giacomo “Jame” Billisi, who is a Senior at Coral Springs Charter School. After his speech he turned around and took a selfie of himself and the audience which set the mood for the casual and informative event that was about to begin.
Event moderators included Arthur Faria, Senior at Coral Glades High School; Emily Nole, Junior at Coral Springs High School; Sharon Chan, Junior at Coral Springs High School; and Gregory Ohl, Senior at Coral Springs Charter.
Panelists this year included: Coral Springs Mayor Skip Campbell; School Board Member Robin Bartleman; Coral Springs Vice Mayor Larry Vignola; Coral Springs City Commissioners Joy Carter, Lou, Cimaglia and Dan Daley; Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes; School Board At-Large Member Robin Bartleman; and School Board Member Abby Freedman.
Vignola said the students even chose the panelists. “It’s their event,” he said. “They promoted it and handed out the flyers. I met with the principals and did the PA announcements. At the end of the day, it’s the kid’s event.”
Students asked a variety of questions and were able to “tweet” them to a twitter account at the event. Many lined up along the aisles to have a chance to ask their questions during the open mic session.
One student asked Dan Daley how many bow ties he owned. “24,” he answered.
A student asked Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes what the possibility of online elections will be in the future. “I think online voting is not far into the future and is part of the legislative discussion.”
Former State Senator turned recently elected Mayor Skip Campbell was asked what his biggest transition into local politics was. “The Sunshine Law,” he said. He said that when he was a senator, he could ask other members of the senate what they thought about a bill, but in local government, due to the “Sunshine,” he could not talk to the commissioners.
One student was upset about the excessive amounts of testing and said to School Board Member Robin Bartleman that she wasn’t doing anything about it. Bartleman explained that the County’s hands were tied, and that the tests were mandated by the State.
Another student asked School Board Member Abby Freedman why she sent her children to private school while making policy on public schools. Freedman explained it was just her youngest child attending private school because she doesn’t believe in end-of-course exams.
There were other questions about the dress codes, why Coral Glades didn’t have an auditorium, and why weren’t AP classes held to the same standards of the regular classes as far as class sizes.
Besides receiving volunteer service hours and free food, there were raffle items ranging from gift certificates from Chick-fil-A, McDonalds and Sawgrass Lanes to gift bags from the City. But students had to stay until the end to receive them, so no one left during the middle of the forum.
“I think all of the question were good – there were so many good questions.” said Vignola. “It think it shocks so many people the intelligence level of these kids.”