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Oswego High School Inc. Students Take To The Streets In Support Of Fort Ontario

OHS students held an informational walk and rally at Fort Ontario on Wednesday. The teens want to send a message to state leaders - "Save Fort Ontario!"
OHS students held an informational walk and rally at Fort Ontario on Wednesday. The teens want to send a message to state leaders - "Save Fort Ontario!"

OSWEGO, NY – Learning at Oswego High School isn’t confined to the classroom.

On Wednesday, Oswego High School Inc., students marched from OHS to Fort Ontario to encourage people to lobby their elected state government officials to save Fort Ontario from budget cuts.

Approximately 100 students were involved in the project.

While both the Assembly and State Senate have passed bills with money earmarked for the Fort, the budget negotiations are ongoing.

“We don’t want the fort bargained away. That’s why we have to maintain pressure on our state officials to save this critical landmark,” said Bobby Natoli, OHS Inc. CEO,

“This project is part of the civic action component of Oswego High School Inc., a course at Oswego High School in which the students function as members of a corporation through which they experience economics, government, and business curriculums,” said the students’ teacher Ben Richardson.

The students carried signs and chanted “Save Our Fort!” as they made their way to the eastside historic landmark. Several motorists along the route honked in support of the students’ efforts.

“It was great to hear all the cars honking. It really shows how much people care,” OHS Inc. student Nicole Sivers said.

“At first, we were all tired. But, when cars started to honk their horns to show support, everyone got into it and woke up,” her classmate Eric Witmer added.

“The youth is taking a stand to save the fort. We grew up here and this is a big part of our life,” Casey Gibson said. “The State Assembly and Senate bills have funding for Parks in them. We don’t want those funds negotiated away.”

“Everybody wants to save the fort,” Natoli said. “We want to out there and make a statement, get people behind us. We can get something done if we all work together like this.”

Ben Richardson, lower right, marches about 100 of his students into Fort Ontario for a rally Wednesday. The teens are fighting to save the historic landmark from being a victim of state budget cuts and encourage the public to join the cause.
Ben Richardson, lower right, marches about 100 of his students into Fort Ontario for a rally Wednesday. The teens are fighting to save the historic landmark from being a victim of state budget cuts and encourage the public to join the cause.

Mary Losurdo, Third Period’s OHS Inc. Civic Action leader, spoke about how happy she was to see so many students involved with this kind of civic action. She reminded everyone that many students her age just sit on the sidelines.

Her generation needs to get out and make their voices heard like they were today, she added.

“I am so thankful that there are students in my school who were willing to stand up and be physically active to make a change,” Losurdo said.

“It was so incredible to hear dozens and dozens of cars honking in approval for our cause. It was as if the whole city was rooting for us; I think they were,” she noted. “I think that it’s really important that the youth of Oswego get involved with things like this. So many teenagers just sit back and don’t participate in political issues that are going to affect us. I’m so proud of my class for getting out and being physically active in their support to defend the fort. Fort Ontario defines Oswego, New York. Don’t take away our history.”

“It was nice for us to get ourselves out there and try to make a difference in the community,” added classmate Chelsea Johnson.

Vanessa Sheffield, OHS Inc. President, spoke about how important Fort Ontario is to the history and economy of Oswego.

According to NY State figures, every dollar spent on tourism generates $7 in economic activity for the state.

And, 78% of leisure travelers visit historic sites. Fort Ontario gets more than 120,000 visitors a year.

The fort generates $2.3 million in economic activity and is the centerpiece of Oswego’s heritage, she said.

The OHS senior told the large crowd that they should be proud to be part of the event.

“We wanted to do something to help the Oswego community and Fort Ontario is a big part of the city. We thought that it would be very important, especially for our generation that it keeps going to benefit our community,” Sheffield said.

As elementary students, they all took at least one field trip to the fort, she pointed out.

“This is really a big issue. The state wants to close the fort. Our civic action leader said, ‘Hey, that is not OK!’ So, we all thought it was a great idea to get involved,” Sheffield said.

The students were writing letters to state officials in support of the fort, according to Gibson.

“We figured why not protest and encourage the public to fight to save the fort, as well,” he said. “We organized the walk to show that the youth want to save the fort. It’s a big part of our life.”

The dollars and cents issue (regarding the state’s multi-billion dollar budget gap) is a big factor in why the state is considering closing many parks and historic sites and reducing the operations of other, Gibson said.

“I think it makes more money than they want to take away,” he said.

The state would save $117,000 by closing the fort; but would sacrifice the Port City’s heritage in doing so, the students said.

Closing the fort would take away economic resources at a time when Oswego needs them the most, they said, adding that Oswego County currently has one of the highest unemployment rates in the entire state.

Wednesday’s rally made a statement regarding the city’s youth, Natoli said.

Natoli spoke to the crowd about the historical and economic importance of Fort Ontario as well.

He said he was thrilled at the large turnout, the popular support that the class had generated, and very proud all the efforts, from letter writing to petitions, that OHS Inc. had been doing to save the fort.

“The youth of Oswego really does care. The fort is something that should not be closed. It’s important to Oswego; it’s an historic landmark,” he said.

“The fort is part of our history. I am grateful that we got a chance to express our feeling about saving it,” his classmate Chelsea Searor agreed.

“The fort is part of Oswego. Oswego is nothing without it,” exclaimed Samantha Duvall. “Save the fort!”

“It’s our history,” Gibson added. “Don’t take it away”

For more information about the class, visit http://www.oswego.org/webpages/brichardson/