Columbia Public Schools (CPS) administrators and Board of Education members joined Columbia’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC) at City Hall to discuss issues pertaining to Columbia’s students in the context of virtual learning Oct 13. YAC, a group of City Council-appointed 14 to 18 year olds, holds monthly meetings in order to draft policy proposals and recommendations to present to the City Council. Junior and YAC secretary Abigail Bridgeman said she believed the gathering helped facilitate communication between the council and school officials.
“It was really nice that people from administration took time out of their schedule to talk to us. It helped create more clarity on my side of online school and realize what administration is doing for us,” Bridgeman said. “I hope that it was also helpful for administration to hear about problems from our side.”
During the two-hour-long meeting, YAC divided the five guest officials into three groups based on their expertise: inclusivity and accessibility, mental health and student well-being and grading and teaching practices. Senior Bet Menen joined CPS administrators Dr. Annelle Whitt and Liana Vessel to discuss issues related to inclusivity and accessibility. Menen said while not perfect, she hopes the exchange encourages future collaboration between CPS and YAC.
“Of course not all of our questions or concerns were sufficiently answered, though not through the fault of our esteemed guests. They wouldn’t have known everything, and those with more power or more visibility in the city could not make it like [CPS Superintendent Dr.] Stiepleman.” Menen said. “However, I have faith our guests having met us will be more inclined to discuss the concerns we brought up at their next meeting with the city or the Board of Education. I am encouraged by their passion to help the youth of Columbia in this unprecedented time, and I hope they continue to be a great contact for future endeavors of YAC.”
This event was one of YAC’s ten meetings per year, many of which feature guest speakers or collaborators. In addition to 20 voting members, sixth ward City Council representative Betsy Peters and Youth Community Coalition Representative Ron Rowe serve as non-voting members. Staff liaison Colleen Spurlock helps organize and oversee the council, ensuring the body meets all municipal government requirements and regulations. Spurlock said she believes YAC has a unique ability to empower and amplify the voices of Columbia’s youth.
“[YAC] is a great way for students who want to change the World to begin their careers in understanding how to make policy, how to influence it and how to put together reports for policies. The youth are our future of our country, and it begins with YAC doing exactly that.”
City Council makes YAC appointments whenever vacancies are available, and any 14 to 19-year-old may apply on the city website. Menen, who joined YAC her junior year, said she applied to contribute underrepresented perspectives on municipal policy.
“I joined YAC because I wanted to be involved in the city’s local government. It was important to me to be involved because I felt like there wasn’t enough accurate representation for the schools within the council,” Menen said. “I wanted to voice the opinions of racial minority youth, LGBTQ youth and low-income family youth. These opinions I felt were lacking in the club as a whole. I felt my presence could maybe spring forth more awareness and accessibility for the youth of Columbia that is often forgotten about.”
YAC will hold its next meeting Nov. 10 and continue to formulate proposals and recommendations for CPS and the City Council on behalf of Columbia’s youth. Moving forward, Bridgeman said she wants YAC to give youth a greater influence on municipal and school choices.
“I hope that YAC creates more opportunities for students to voice their opinions in different decisions being made that affect them,” Bridgeman said. “I’m not saying that they have to vote on it, but I wish that there were more opportunities for students to get to talk to administration like we got to do last night. I think it would improve students’ trust in the administration and create better relations between the school and students.”
Do you think students should have a greater influence on school and municipal policies? Let us know in the comments below.