An exercise in free speech, with a nod to investigative journalism, students in Ryan Young’s classes at Escalon High School have penned their ‘Letter to the Editor’ as part of a special project.
“I started having the students complete this assignment back in 2001,” explained Young. “The assignment is based on the Progressive Era muckraking (investigative) journalists at the turn of the 20th century who were exposing issues in our society. The students are charged with finding an issue, locally, at the state level, at the federal level, or worldwide, they think is a problem today. Once they identify an issue they need to explain why it is a problem and how it can be corrected.”
When the letters are submitted to The Times, a few are chosen at random and excerpts used in a story; several others are printed in their entirety over the next several weeks.
“The point is to connect the past with the present,” added Young. “A healthy democracy needs active citizens involved in their communities and country. Many times people view history as stories from the past that have no bearing on their current life; this could not be further from the truth.”
Letter writer Jessica Freitas touched on the war on drugs.
“A rise in drug use is evident from the events of the COVID-19 pandemic. More people have been unemployed, homeless, and sick, both physically and mentally, which can lead to drug use,” Freitas wrote.
She advocated for treatment over jail time for substance abuse.
“The treatment process itself should be individualized just like treatment for all other medical conditions,” she wrote.
Haylee Castro offered information on the Safe Haven program as an alternative to abortion.
“Young girls and women, scared and don’t know what their options are. I recently researched one option called a safe haven baby box,” Castro wrote. “The box is placed on a wall of the firehouse, on the outside is a door which gives women an option to legally place the baby inside safely, securely and anonymously surrender their newborn if not able to properly care for them.”
Letter writer Wesley Keane urged renewed emphasis against terrorism, as this year marked the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
“That was one of the biggest hits we have ever taken and we can’t allow it to happen again,” Keane wrote. “That’s why we need to fight back and fight back harder, we need to do everything we can to stop terrorism and keep everyone safe.”
Teacher Young said he’s also surprised that it has been 20 years since he started the project; noting that time flies. He added that the father of one of his current students had his letter published by The Times in that inaugural year of 2001.
The Times will publish a few student letters each week during December; look for the letters in the issues of Dec. 8, 15, 22 and 29.