Junior BHS student Sloane Scott’s dream of youth involvement in government is finally materializing as Columbia is gaining a Youth Advisory Council. On Saturday, Oct. 4 she held a youth summit at the Activity and Recreation Center to bolster excitement about the brewing council and get youth to apply to be members.
“It started in 2011 when I was in eighth grade. I looked around at the intelligence of my peers because that was when I was first in EEE [CPS gifted program], they were some of the most creative people that I had ever known, but their ideas weren’t really being taken into consideration outside of the classroom,” Scott said. “So then I thought about how youth might be able to have a voice in local government and implement solutions.”
Scott knew that to make her idea happen she would need some help. She looked to her EEE teacher, Matt Leutchmann. Leutchmann’s classroom fostered the kind of idealistic thinking Scott possessed and he enabled her to take steps towards making the youth council more than just a wish.
“We run a project based learning environment in the EEE program and so I tried to offer students opportunities to explore their own interests and their own passions,” Leutchmann said. “Sloane is very passionate about equality and justice for youth. She felt like young people really didn’t have a voice in government. Her vision eventually developed into a thousand yard view of what would eventually become youth advisory council.”
Scott’s idea was selected for the 2014 Future Problem Solvers’ project, which means that a group of intelligent and motivated students from all three Columbia high schools committed to making the youth council a reality. But this was still a lofty goal that took sustained effort.
“We pursued it very methodically in order to make sure that we were doing it correctly. We examined other youth advisory councils around the nation,” Leutchmann said. “Sloane did a lot of research on what worked and what didn’t work. Ultimately after a two year journey she was able to present her ideas to the city council. They voted unanimously to adopt the idea and begin implementing the youth council.”
City councilwoman Barbara Hoppe attended the youth summit to see the budding youth council she had voted for.
“I think that youth have a fresh perspective on problems and solutions and there are lots of things in the city that effect youth and we need their input,” Hoppe said. “I’ve seen that other cities have youth advisory commissions and it’s very valuable to the city and the community and I think it’s valuable to the youth, also. It’s a voice that we don’t hear from that we need to get input from in an organized fashion.”
While several adults aided in the process, the weight of the council feel squarely on Scott’s shoulders. She had to get members to join the council, and ensure that they were youth who want to be catalyst for change and better their city. Scott’s solution was the youth summit.
“When you get to a certain point with students you have to be strong enough to let go and let them learn and make mistakes,” Leutchmann said. “Ultimately what went into this is Sloane’s passion and her ability to begin to learn to delegate responsibility, to get people fired up about the idea and encourage them to follow through.”
The youth summit focused on team building and leadership activities that would expose the tendencies of youth and bring out qualities that will serve the youth advisory council well.
RBHS junior Kate Byars attended the summit because of her love of government and her interest in getting involved. She thought the activities at the summit connected to leadership skills along with the organization of groups.
“I did the building a bridge [game], and it was really hard. We had to take putty type stuff and paper clips and string and make a bridge that would support a Hershey bar,” Byars said. “It’s kind of a working together type thing and just figuring out everyone’s roles in the group.”
The attendees of the summit submitted applications to be reviewed by the Future Problem Solvers team, who will pick 30 students to be serve the youth advisory council.
Scott is excited her idea is being put in action, but she believes that the Columbia chapter is just the beginning of youth involvement in government.
“I was thinking United States youth advisory council. Leutchmann suggested that I start smaller and then it can create a ripple effect,” Scott said. “The Columbia one will inspire councils in other cities and other states, and then hopefully one day we will actually have a United States youth council.”
By Abby Kempf