Youth Council sign-up ends soon
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,
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.”