Communities around Indiana are increasingly tapping into an effective way that allows for the people to whom the long-term future belongs to help plan for it.
The voices of high school students are being heard more frequently as part of a worthwhile trend for municipalities in Indiana to form mayor’s youth councils. It’s an idea that is advanced by Accelerate Indiana Municipalities and one that AIM’s municipal innovations specialist Chelsea Schneider said is catching on in popularity. She told The Herald in Dubois County that 26 communities in Indiana now have youth councils run by mayors and town leaders. “Our goal is to grow the number of youth councils to increase youth involvement in our communities around the state and provide statewide programming for the youth councils and networks with other youths across the state,” Schneider told The Herald.
Huntingburg, in Dubois County, is among communities that have formed a mayor’s youth council, and Mayor Denny Spinner doesn’t regret the decision. He picked up on the idea at last year’s AIM conference. He told The Herald, “It’s a leadership opportunity. We are trying to develop leaders. But we’re also trying to get them engaged in their community.” The students have demonstrated that they indeed are engaged in community and are instrumental in the building of a new park in the city.
As president of Huntingburg’s youth council, Southridge High School sophomore Paige Kendall spoke from the student perspective. She told The Herald, “This is a really good way to help us learn more about our community.”
Huntingburg’s 20-member council meets with Spinner once a month to discuss ideas pertinent to young people in the city. A six-member executive team meets with Spinner an additional day each month.
A similar youth council was established in Loogootee and allowed not only Loogootee High School students to participate but also Shoals High School students and a home-school student to join.
The benefits of a mayor’s youth council are many. Particularly noteworthy is the reality that young people too often don’t have ample instruction about how local government works and certainly don’t have strategically designed ways to participate. The existence of mayor’s youth councils have the potential to greatly enhance an understanding of civics for many young people who are potential future leaders in the places they live.