Tacoma teens connect with the world

Teenagers interacted with adults for discussions on Tacoma’s role as an international city and how youth can better prepare for lives in a global economy on Feb. 26.

Students from six public high schools – School of the Arts, Foss, Lincoln, Mount Tahoma, Stadium and Wilson – attended the first Tacoma Sister Cities Student Leadership Summit. It took place at Asia Pacific Cultural Center.

The event began with welcoming statements by Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Carla Santorno and Mayor Marilyn Strickland.

Port of Tacoma Commissioner Connie Bacon shared statistics on the impact of trade through the Tideflats on the state economy. She discussed the Harbor Maintenance Tax, which the federal government levies on containers that arrive by ship in American ports, but not on containers that go to Canada and then are moved by truck or rail into the United States. Leaders in Washington ports consider this an unfair advantage for ports in British Columbia.

She also mentioned that widening of the Panama Canal will have an impact on shipping on West Coast ports.

When trade in Pierce County is strong, it benefits everyone, according to Bacon. “When our customers make money, we make money and you make money.”

Anthony Hemsted, executive director of World Trade Center Tacoma, recalled how when he was in high school he expected Japan would become the leading player in the world economy. Instead, that nation’s economy has faltered while China has emerged as a leader in international trade.

“They are ambassadors for their schools,” Hodge said. They are all very professional. I am very proud of them.” - Minh-Anh Hodge Tacoma Public Schools

He used North Korea and South Korea to make a point on the concept of prosperity through trade. Satellite images captured at night show South Korea lit up with electric lights, while its neighbor to the north is dark except for a few lights in its capital city. Hemsted noted South Korea is very engaged in trade, unlike its isolated neighbor. “Countries need to engage internationally.”

Students dispersed to four breakout sessions, where they heard from panels consisting of various educators, government officials and business people. The topics were: port, trade and the East Asian market; city, trade and citizen diplomacy; business, trade and city reputation; and education and cultural partnerships.

Tacoma School Board member Debbie Winskill was on the education panel. She encouraged students to study foreign languages. She discussed her daughter’s experience spending some of her time in high school and college studying and living in France. Winskill said all her children studied two foreign languages. She thinks students should have some input on which languages are offered in their schools, rather than having this decision made solely by an administrator.

Minh-Anh Hodge, director of second language acquisition and early learning for Tacoma Public Schools, said about 150 students participated. They were selected by teachers who have been active in international education efforts or Sister City groups. They prepared by reading provided articles and doing other research.

“They are ambassadors for their schools,” Hodge said. They are all very professional. I am very proud of them.”

The delegates will report what they learned to other students in selected classes, spreading the experience and sparking interest in future conferences among their peers.

All participants went to the main room, where they enjoyed a lunch of traditional Asian dishes. After the meal a number of students shared ideas on how schools can make youth more connected with the world.

Kamilla Cordero of SOTA suggested students should become pen pals with youth living in Tacoma’s Sister Cities.

Marilyn Thai of Foss wants a club formed where foreign exchange students can share information with American kids.

Debbie Bingham, a city employee who coordinates Tacoma’s Sister Cities program, mentioned a conference on the topic this summer in San Antonio. It will include a student track and there is financial assistance available for Tacoma youth who would like to attend.


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