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2022 Graduates: Justine Barnard Expands Senior Experience with Study Abroad

Kalamazoo Central High School’s Justine Barnard senior year was pretty atypical — mostly because she wasn’t even in Kalamazoo. 

Barnard, 17, has been living abroad in Germany as part of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange, or CBYX, which is fully funded by the U.S. Congress and the German Bundestag. It sends 350 students from across the United States to live with a host family and attend a German high school. While there they travel, meet with government officials and learn about global affairs. 

She attended El Sol Elementary and Linden Grove Middle School. While at Kalamazoo Central, she participated in Mock Trial, was a volunteer at the YWCA, was a summer scholar with the Great Jewish Books Program, and volunteered for various political campaigns. 

Barnard, who is the daughter of Anja and Ken Barnard, will return to the States later this summer and plans to attend Barnard College or the University of Michigan in the fall, where she wants to study political science and public policy. 

Barnard answered questions via email while still studying in Germany. 

You received a City of Kalamazoo Social Justice Youth Award earlier this year. How did you get involved in social justice and what are your biggest concerns? 

Like many students, I worried about gun violence from a young age. I decided there had to be some way to become actively involved in issues of social justice and began interning for Jon Hoadley’s campaign for Congress when I was 14. Some of the biggest social justice concerns I have are the climate crisis, racial injustice, and gun violence. These are complex and somewhat overwhelming issues. But social justice is a process, a goal, and requires participation. This is why I decided to act. It’s important for everyone, especially young people, to know that it is possible to make a difference. 

How have your student activities reflected these concerns and interests? 

My activities center around volunteerism and community work. For example, before the 2020 election, I created a website and organization, KzooBallotBoxRides, which offered rides to ballot boxes. I used a form to request or offer a ride and included a list of all ballot box locations in my county. I contacted several organizations and made announcements at their meetings. I was thrilled to find that dozens of people in Kalamazoo volunteered to give rides. I decided to tackle this issue because I hoped to make voting more accessible and increase participation. In a community with a high poverty rate, not everyone can simply jump in a car and drop off their absentee ballot or easily navigate the requirements of requesting one.

You also did work studying bail inequities in Kalamazoo. What did you learn through your volunteerism? 

The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says “excessive bail shall not be required.” Logically, what is excessive should depend on a person’s finances and circumstances. But it doesn’t. Bail often requires that 10 percent be posted. So, if bail is set at $1,000, it would require $100. This may seem fine to the average person, but for a poor person, this may be impossible. Reforming the bail system, or eliminating it for low level, nonviolent offenses seems like a part of criminal justice reform that everyone should agree on, but not enough people understand how bail works. 

Your mom is from Germany. Were there ever any questions about whether you would be bilingual in English and German? 

Immersion in culture and language has always been an important part of my life, whether that be learning Mandarin at The Chinese Association of Greater Kalamazoo, learning Spanish at El Sol Elementary, or learning German at home. There was never any question about whether I would be bilingual in English and German because my mother’s side of the family lives in Germany and we speak both languages at home. 

Do you feel like you missed out on anything by being away during your senior year? 

My senior year is different but I don’t feel I’ve missed out. I’m seeing the world and making life-long friends. I think I’ve become more independent and have a broader worldview after studying abroad.