N.O. student helps get bill passed in Legislature

For Lusher Charter School student Ariane Schaffer, the customary activities of a successful senior year were enhanced by an accomplishment unusual to most 16-year-olds — playing a part in getting a bill passed in the Louisiana Legislature.

The idea for the bill — to officially recognize students for community service hours — blossomed from an optimistic idea into a real-life legal effort with her fellow members of the Louisiana Legislative Youth Advisory Council.

After being inspired by Janet Pace, executive director of the Louisiana Serve Commission and a speaker at the youth council’s bimonthly meetings, Schaffer said she wanted to find a way to get more youths to volunteer in their communities.

She got together with a small group of youth council members from across the state at a pizza place in Baton Rouge, a meeting during which the group collaborated on their common desire to see community service become a bigger part of the high school experience.

Schaffer said being part of the council, which includes two students from every district in the state, gave her the chance to have a voice, and to “take the things I saw around me as problems in my school and community, talk to people about the problems they see, and work together to make a solution.”

But that day at the pizza place, “We had no idea we could pass a bill,” she said.

Schaffer said in general, there were varying viewpoints and different political leanings in the council, and there were some social issues that just weren’t discussed. But on the topic of community service and a need to encourage more involvement among young people, Schaffer said everyone was in agreement.

While Schaffer noted that many schools already have community service requirements, she and the youth council members discussed changing their peers’ attitude. Many considered the requirement a burden, Schaffer said, and would put off the hours until the very end.

Schaffer said she and her council members wanted to make a change that would lead to the notion that pitching in wasn’t just something students had to do but something that they wanted to do, and even enjoyed doing.

To accomplish the goal they decided to find a way to create incentive and encourage students to embrace the hours as an accomplishment that deserves extra recognition.

Schaffer said they also wanted to “ignite the flames” in youths who have never been involved in community service.

The goal is to get high schools students to experience firsthand how rewarding volunteering can be, and compel them to continue to do it, Schaffer said.

The group came up with idea of putting a sticker on high school diplomas. A gold sticker would represent 300 volunteer hours logged over four years, a silver, 100 hours, and a bronze, 50 hours.

But then came the logistics — things such as: How would the hours be recorded and verified? What would be included in the category of community service? And who would pay for the stickers?

The students put together a presentation and went before the Legislature in January 2012.

In terms of their follow-up lobbying effort, Schaffer said, they were strategic, targeting lawmakers who were involved in education.

Across the board, “they loved it,” Schaffer said.

Schaffer said they couldn’t have done it without the support of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. BESE helped figure out many of the implementation nuts and bolts, like funding the stickers and helping to set up a database for logging hours, she said.

After nearly a year in the works, the youth council’s bill was passed in December. Schaffer said she was beyond excited and ready to start on a new endeavor.

Heading to American University in Washington, D.C., in the fall, Schaffer said she is interested in studying public policy, specifically education reform. A dancer, Schaffer has strong views on cuts to arts in education. And without a stronger focus on education, Schaffer said, she has concerns that “the future generations will be deprived of a good education.”

Schaffer said her international background, (an English mother, Canadian father and a strong involvement in the Jewish community) has helped her see her world from a many-sided perspective.

“I’m so grateful my family is so diverse” she said.

For now, Schaffer said she sees herself coming back to New Orleans in the future. “I love New Orleans, and there’s no place like New Orleans,” she said. “It needs a lot of help but it also has so much to offer.”

After her first experience helping to set something in motion usually left up to adults, Schaffer said she feels that anything is possible.

“If you have an idea and you really care a lot about it, you can make it work — you can do it,” she said.