By Jenny Neyman
The students of Nikiski High School are fed up, and they’re not going to take it anymore.
“I denounce this Kenai Peninsula Borough, living through this oppression that is called school is unacceptable,” said Nikiski senior Kade Anderson. “Our duty is to be free and the borough should not be able to infringe upon it.”
Students in Joe Rizzo’s English and Darren Zibell’s social studies classes presented their declaration of sovereign independence Dec. 10 to “Colonial Governor (aka, Principal) Dan Carstens, school district Superintendent Sean Dusek and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre. Representatives of the four new micronations the students intend to form — North Roadia, Order of the Guilds, Kratia Novus and Dysfunctional Dystopia — explained their intentions to secede from the borough, giving the officials a chance to respond and restore unity to the land.
Convincing the Bostonians that taxation without representation wasn’t really such a bad idea might have been an easier sell.
“Better to live a day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep. These are the words under which we rally,” said Ross Halliday, borrowing some quotes from Mussolini to a roar of cheers from the crowd. “I can say that their goal to turn us to mice has failed. Liberty is a duty, not a right. We recognize this and we ascend to the helm of victory. We do not argue with those who disagree with them. We destroy them!”
“You’re scaring me a little. This sounds like a real insurrection, we’re talking about blood and tyranny. It sound like you’re pretty serious about this,” Mayor Navaare said, braving the podium. “So what I’m going to do is to encourage the colonial governor and the superintendent to figure this out before we have to call in Michelle Obama to straighten you guys out.”
“Well it is a rebellion, so they’re not very orderly,” Rizzo responded. “You’ve had borough assembly meetings like this, Mike, I know you have.”
In amongst the boos, cheers and podium-thumping theatrics, the students gave speeches enumerating their list of grievances, pointing out inconsistencies and presumed injustices under which they are oppressed.
Why do other schools have vending machines, but Nikiski Middle-High School does not? Why do juniors and seniors have the privledge of leaving campus, but sophomores do not? Why are sweatshirts from the Homer bar Salty Dawg not allowed, when clothing from Walmart or similar retails that sell alcohol are?
Haley Miller cited National Sleep Foundation and Centers for Disease Control findings that students are not getting enough sleep to function at their best, arguing that school should start at 9:30 a.m., instead of catering to adults’ earlier schedules.
“If you are able to find a flaw in my reasoning it’s probably because I had to get up at an ungodly hour to get ready to come to school and write and deliver this speech,” Miller said.
Alecia Bridges took on the school’s dress code, in which hats are not allowed, nor is clothing that advertises a bar, or that bares shoulders or too much leg.
“Students should be allowed to express their unique, individual personalities through their style and clothes with less restrictions,” she said. “… We don’t want to hear, ‘Well, when I was your age.’ No. This is the new generation and the world is not the same as it was then. … If a guy wants to wear a hat, why not, if it doesn’t have vulgar language or an explicit graphic? For that matter, if a guy wants to wear a dress and heels or if a girl wants to wear men’s clothing then their personal style should not be based on gender preferences.”
Sam Tauriainen advocated for a loosening of the school’s cellphone restrictions.
“I think that as students we owe a certain respect to our teachers in class, that when we’re in class I think we should stay off our phones,” he said. “… But I think that during passing period we should be allowed to be on our phones.”
Verity Feltman’s demand was for homemade food in school lunches.
“One reason we dislike the school district’s lunch is because of the very disgusting, flavorless food,” she said. “Thanks to Homer High School for making us all eat like Paleo hippies. I think we deserve to eat normal food — homemade pizza, mashed potatoes and cookies that aren’t harder than rocks. We deserve sugar.”
Carstens, Dusek and Navarre took turns responding to the students’ points, eventually in seriousness, but often with a preliminary detour to further fire up the crowd.
“I shall seek to unite the forces of KCHS, and SoHi and Homer High School and descend upon you,” Navarre railed back, then admitting that he was a KCHS graduate, to boos from the crowd. “You guys can’t even beat their football team!”
“I would like to know why I got booed so bad, and then he comes up and gets applause and he just drills you,” Dusek appealed to the crowd.
“Look at the badges,” Navarre later responded. “Mine says visitors, he has an official badge, so direct your angst in that fashion.”
“This is becoming the pass the buck conference,” Rizzo quipped.
Answers were given honestly, even if they weren’t exactly what the students wanted to hear. School lunches are what they are because of federal requirements about nutritional content and about budgetary restraints.
“In order for us to do home-cooked meals, which I would love to do, it takes more and more personnel. Unfortunately, every dollar that goes into the lunch program has to come from somewhere and that’s from the classroom,” Dusek said.
Dress codes are handled on a school-by-school basis, with input from site councils. When hats have been allowed, there were too many problems of them getting flicked off or stolen.
“That’s what the dress code is for, to eliminate distractions,” Carstens said. “I understand your personalities, your individuality. However, when we when have school here we want to eliminate distractions as much as possible.”
Vending machines aren’t allowed because the building houses middle and high school students, and there are more-restrictive rules about what younger students are allowed access to.
As for leaving campus, Dusek doesn’t think it should be a privilege granted automatically by grade, but an individual one.
“We substitute for your parents here, so your safety is our responsibility. Once you leave campus, we really don’t know what you’re up to, what’s going on, and we could be responsible for anything that occurs, so that’s why I would require you to earn it with good grades, good behavior and being good citizens,” Dusek said.
As for cellphones, a few abusing the privilege — by using phones in class or by participating in cyber activity that facilitates bullying or the denigration of others — can cause problems for which all suffer consequences.
“That is part of the problem of cellphones in the classroom, is just the disrespectful use and the disruption. It is a tool for learning purposes when you’re in that classroom and I fully support that, but if one person isn’t doing that, unfortunately it ends up ruining it for all,” Dusek said.
As for school start times, funding is the biggest culprit, since it would cost extra to have a separate round of buses pick up and drop off high schoolers for a later school day.
“It may look like we cater to adults, but we actually cater to the younger kids more than we do for you because you’re closer to adulthood. We have found that it’s better if the younger kids aren’t alone at home after (school),” Dusek said.
While the administrators didn’t acquiesce to the students’ demands, they did extend an olive branch.
“If you guys feel like you need something or that something needs to change, come talk to me. You don’t have to rebel. You did get my attention. I’m not saying to write our your list of demands, but I’m up for negotiations,” Carstens said.
“I want you to think, I want you to be appropriate — we had a little fun, I had a little fun, too, because I love to tease teenagers sometimes,” Dusek said. “This is what education is all about. You guys are leaping into the next level of education. This is where you get together, you see a problem, you come up with action steps, and then you try to implement them. Come up with some good ones, work with Mr. Carstens, make a difference. That’s what it’s all about and I so appreciate what you guys have been doing.”
Rebellion or not, Rizzo made sure to dismiss class in time to proceed to second period in an orderly fashion, as the students had decided to remain within the school system. Rizzo encouraged them to work together for change.
“If there’s anything you get out of this I hope you realize the power of a great deal of people all walking in same direction,” Rizzo said. “You would be amazed at what kids under 18 can do, the changes that you can make when you’re all united. Thankfully, we live in a country where we can make changes if we’re united,” he said.