Youth Coun­cil sign-up ends soon

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - HICHAM RAACHE

SPRING­DALE — Stu­dents who want a hands-on course in lead­er­ship have one more day to ap­ply for the Spring­dale Youth Coun­cil. Pro­gram reg­is­tra­tion opened June 28 and closes Tues­day, said Melissa Reeves, pub­lic re­la­tions di­rec­tor for the city.

This will be the first year for the Spring­dale Youth Coun­cil, and Reeves said the city has re­ceived 12 ap­pli­ca­tions as of Fri­day. The coun­cil has 18 slots avail­able.

“Since we have such a short ap­pli­ca­tion win­dow this first year, I don’t ex­pect for us to fill all 18 slots. How­ever, that would be ideal,” Reeves said. “We would love to fill the whole pro­gram.”

The coun­cil is an in­valu­able op­por­tu­nity, Reeves said.

“Youth Coun­cil is an op­por­tu­nity for young peo­ple

to get ex­posed to lo­cal gov­ern­ment and to learn how they can make a dif­fer­ence in the com­mu­nity. Through this pro­gram, they will learn how lo­cal gov­ern­ment works, they will have the chance to re­ceive men­tor­ing from elected of­fi­cials, and help ad­vise the city on is­sues that mat­ter to young peo­ple,” Reeves said.

Kathryn Birk­head cham­pi­oned the cre­ation of a youth coun­cil when she ran for City Coun­cil last year. Birk­head worked as a di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion di­rec­tor for The Jones Cen­ter and North­west Arkansas Com­mu­nity Col­lege. Birk­head par­tic­i­pated in a com­mu­nity con­ver­sa­tion at The Jones Cen­ter in 2009 to dis­cuss ideas on how to bet­ter the com­mu­nity.

“One of those ideas was a teen city coun­cil, but we never got to do it,” Birk­head said. “But a friend re­minded me when I was run­ning for City Coun­cil last year what a good idea that had been. I then adopted it as a part of my plat­form.”

Birk­head said even though she wasn’t elected, her friend told her it was still a good idea and she should present it to Mayor Doug Sprouse, who em­braced the idea.

“I was in­ter­ested in cre­at­ing a Youth Coun­cil pro­gram to help grow the next gen­er­a­tion of civic and com­mu­nity lead­ers in Spring­dale,” Sprouse said. “This city is full of bright young peo­ple who have a lot to of­fer, and this pro­gram en­cour­ages them to get in­volved and make their voices heard.”

Sprouse an­nounced the coun­cil’s cre­ation dur­ing his Feb. 28 state of the city ad­dress. Reeves said Sprouse asked her to de­velop the Youth Coun­cil pro­gram.

The coun­cil will con­sist of mem­bers rep­re­sent­ing grades 10 through 12 from Spring­dale High School, Har-Ber High School, the School of In­no­va­tion and Archer Learn­ing Cen­ter as well as home-schooled and pri­vate school stu­dents.

Ap­pli­cants have to be rec­om­mended by a spon­sor who will also be a point of sup­port for them through­out the process and make sure the ap­pli­cant ful­fills aca­demic obli­ga­tions, Reeves said.

Ap­pli­cants also are re­quired to an­swer six short ques­tions.

Rogers has a Mayor’s Youth Coun­cil, which, ac­cord­ing to the city’s web­site, “is de­signed to en­gage fu­ture lead­ers by al­low­ing them to learn and dis­cuss is­sues re­lated to lo­cal gov­ern­ment while learn­ing to pro­mote ser­vice to their com­mu­nity through­out the city.”

The pro­gram is open to 10 high school ju­niors who at­tend school in Rogers or live in Rogers. Fayet­teville and Bentonville do not have youth coun­cils.

Rogers’ coun­cil has been a boon for the city, said Mar­lin Berry, Rogers schools su­per­in­ten­dent.

“It’s ob­vi­ously a great op­por­tu­nity any­time we can in­volve kids. It’s great in­ter­ac­tion with adults and it pro­vides great in­sight for our kids on what goes on in the city in which they live,” Berry said. “Our school dis­trict has a re­ally strong re­la­tion­ship with the cham­ber of com­merce and the city, so it’s re­ally nice that they in­volve our kids with the op­por­tu­nity to have a teen coun­cil.”

Spring­dale’s Youth Coun­cil will last Septem­ber through April and be an an­nual pro­gram. Every year the coun­cil will have 18 new stu­dents.

Rick Scha­ef­fer, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for Spring­dale Pub­lic Schools, said the school sys­tem sup­ports the Youth Coun­cil’s cre­ation.

“It’s a re­ally good idea be­cause it al­lows the stu­dents in our school dis­trict to get a good idea of how the city gov­ern­ment of Spring­dale works,” Scha­ef­fer said. “Hope­fully, it will en­cour­age them to do the same wher­ever they live in the fu­ture.”

There will be an open po­si­tion for an ex-of­fi­cio mem­ber, which is a stu­dent who par­tic­i­pated the pre­vi­ous year and stays on in an ad­vi­sory role, but will only vote to break ties, Reeves said.

The pro­gram will in­clude a group pre­sen­ta­tion where Youth Coun­cil mem­bers will re­search a prob­lem af­fect­ing city youth. They will present the prob­lem and po­ten­tial so­lu­tions to the City Coun­cil, Reeves said.

Elected city of­fi­cials rang­ing from the mayor to City Coun­cil mem­bers to City At­tor­ney Earnest Cate will serve as men­tors to Youth Coun­cil mem­bers, Reeves said.

The Youth Coun­cil will not only give lo­cal youth a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of gov­ern­ment, it will also break down bar­ri­ers, Scha­ef­fer said.

“Some kids might think, ‘Gosh, that’s for adults,’ but when you’re 18 you can vote,” he said. “In­volve­ment is a civic duty.”

Al­der­man Colby Fulfer said he looks for­ward to the Youth Coun­cil’s cre­ation.

“It’s go­ing to be a great ex­pe­ri­ence for ev­ery­one in­volved, not just the young peo­ple who are se­lected, but also for us com­mu­nity lead­ers,” Fulfer said. “We have the op­por­tu­nity to men­tor and help de­velop th­ese young peo­ple into lead­ers for our com­mu­nity. We have the op­por­tu­nity to im­pact the next gen­er­a­tion, and I’m ex­cited for that op­por­tu­nity.”

There are about 21,500 stu­dents in the school dis­trict, and more than 5,000 are high school stu­dents, Scha­ef­fer said. He said lo­cal high schools will pro­mote the coun­cil next spring, and ex­pects more stu­dents will sign up.

“The best thing is go­ing to be word of mouth,” he said. “If th­ese stu­dents are in­volved and have a good ex­pe­ri­ence, they’re go­ing to tell their friends.”

Spring­dale’s Youth Coun­cil will last Septem­ber through April and be an an­nual pro­gram. Every year the coun­cil will have 18 new stu­dents.

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