Union Grove Middle School eighth-grader Madu Eneli has mixed emotions about his recent participation in NBC News’ 2012 Education Nation Summit student town hall meeting in New York City.

On one hand, he enjoyed the all-expenses-paid trip to the Big Apple and sharing a bus with a civil-rights activist he admires. On the other hand, he was disappointed in the lack of student input that was allowed in the town hall meeting, which was hosted by MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry and broadcast live from midtown Manhattan Sept. 23.

Eneli, 13, was invited to participate in the program after NBC researchers read an Internet news article about the book “Are You Ready For Middle School?” that he wrote and recently published. He was one of several hundred students ages 13-25 who participated, but the first half of the two-hour program was mostly filled with presidential candidate representatives and educators.

“I was actually expecting it to be all kids; I didn’t know they were going to bring out the adults,” Eneli said.

Aya Eneli, who accompanied her son to New York, also was disappointed by the program’s agenda.

“There were so many bright students there, just amazing, and I’m like, ‘Why are we listening to Obama’s and Romney’s talking heads here?’” she said. “It wasn’t until the second hour of the show that they brought the students out, and even then it was just a sound bite and the students couldn’t really get into the meat of anything they wanted to discuss.”

In the last 15 minutes, Eneli was given the opportunity to stand and tell Harris-Perry about his book and to give advice on how students can be successful in school.

In spite of the disappointments, there were some bright moments in the town hall experience. During the program, Eneli was excited to find he had shared a bus with a man he admires — Ernest Green, a civil rights pioneer and one of the Little Rock Nine. Green, who helped integrate Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957, was featured in a town hall segment on students who have taken courageous steps for education changes.

“I saw him on the bus on our way from the hotel, and I hadn’t really said anything to him or thought anything about it,” Eneli said. “And then we’re on the show and they bring him out … and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I didn’t know that?’ Man, I wish I had said something to him.”

After the program, Eneli was interviewed by NBC affiliates in Austin and San Diego. He hopes to participate in the town hall meeting again next year, and perhaps serve on the show’s student panel.

“I think now that we’ve done this that it will open up more doors and they’ll see that even though I’m young, I can still do big things,” he said.

Contact Kristi Johnson at kristij@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7548

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