RISE students wrap up summer school with Waynesboro council, school board forum

WAYNESBORO — Students in the RISE summer program spent time this past June studying issues that they felt were important for youth in the Waynesboro area. They narrowed their topics down to one issue and, on Friday, about 20 students presented the topic during a forum with candidates for Waynesboro City Council and School Board.

“The common thread was to expand the community center,” said Chanda McGuffin, co-founder of RISE, an advocacy group whose mission is to give voice and hope to the Black community. The educational wing of the organization provides after-school and summer tutoring programs for area youth working to build confidence and teach critical thinking.

The students presented their ideas to the candidates Friday. Among the ideas was expanding the Rosenwald Community Center on Port Republic Road by adding a bowling alley, a pool and a jump park.

“We would like to expand the community center with a jump park,” one of the students explained. “Because a jump park is a fun place for kids.”

The students explained that physical activity was good for kids and a great place to bond with other kids. They even came armed with statistics, including information from the Virginia Department of Health that says 13% of the state’s youth between 10 and 17 years old are overweight. The RISE students told the candidates it was important to find ways to keep youth active.

The candidates carefully responded to the ideas, explaining that, while they were good ideas and that youth did need more things to do in the area, a lot of research would have to be done to make sure the ideas were viable.

“I want to commend all of you for being able to remember these statistics and the information you are relaying back, and your bravery for standing up to ask these questions,” said Nigel Stewart, a candidate for the school board’s at-large seat.

Stewart is a graduate of Waynesboro High School and Virginia State University. He is currently the vice-chair of the Waynesboro planning commission.

“It’s important that (the kids) see someone who looks like me and is somewhat close to their age,” said Stewart, who is African-American and graduated from high school in 2019. “Representation is a real thing. I remember going to middle school and high school and not seeing a lot of educators who looked like me.”

When he did see those educators, especially in college, it impacted his development.

“It gave me a lot of hope and the possibility that I could actually achieve these things,” Stewart said. “My outlook has always been not only for the well-being of my family, my community, but also those who are coming after me. That’s who we’re really setting the stage for. Programs and activities like these benefit that future development.”

Stewart was one of two school board candidates who took part in the event Friday, joining Erika Smith, the current Ward B representative who is running for reelection. On the city council side, Ward A candidates David Goetze and Lorie Strother, Ward B candidate Will Flory and at-large candidate Jeremy Sloat took part in the forum.

Like Stewart, Smith was also impressed with the presentation by the students Friday.

“It says a lot for our students and teachers and schools,” Smith said. “And our community partnerships, like RISE and other community organizations, are doing good things. They asked really hard questions and I’m not sure my answers were as good as their questions.”

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— Patrick Hite is a reporter at The News Leader. Story ideas and tips always welcome. Contact Patrick (he/him/his) at phite@newsleader.com and follow him on Instagram @hitepatrick. Subscribe to us at newsleader.com

This article originally appeared on Staunton News Leader: RISE students hold forum for Waynesboro council, school board candidates

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