“Student council.” For many of us, the very words summon up visions of high-status, high-achieving high school kids who look down on the rest of us while not really doing all that much. OK, maybe we’re taking this too personally.
Ward 6 City Councilman Steve Ross is looking to put a different spin on the notion of the youth council. Ross serves on the Las Vegas City Council’s School-Safety Action Committee, which has members from the police and fire departments, teachers, and parks and recreation employees. The committee discusses graffiti, drugs, education and crime.
“I looked around at all of the members, and I felt something was missing,” Ross says. “We needed a voice from the youth. We can’t have solutions to problems we don’t completely understand.” Then he met Caldwell, Idaho, Mayor Garret Nancolas, who spoke last October at the annual conference of the Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities.
“Caldwell has very different demographics from Ward 6—30,000 residents, versus our 130,000 here,” Ross says, “but Nancolas started a youth council to combat their high truancy rates, gang violence and other issues. And once the committee was implemented, it seems the city changed overnight, for the better.” In assembling a group to discuss issues, propose solutions and enact programs, Ross went so far as to ask the principals of the five high schools in Ward 6 to select students who aren’t necessarily the popular, highly involved kids, with their hard-earned skills at politicking and (ahem) resumé padding.
“I don’t want the straight-A students,” Ross says. “I want the ones that stand out for their special skills, talents and traits. I want those students who don’t have a voice currently, but really have something to say.” Principals at Arbor View, Centennial, Peterson, Shadow Ridge and the Northwest Career and Technical Academy were each asked to choose one student from each grade for the council. The group first met on Jan. 26 and will meet again on April 12.
Ross wants the students to have full control over making and implementing their decisions. The council will elect students for internal officer positions, create bylaws and a mission statement—everything from the ground up. Funding for its projects—suggestions so far range from art walls in parks to open-forum discussions for students struggling with drug abuse—would come from the city.
“This next meeting will be a big one,” Ross says. “They’re really going to dig in to elections and the game plan.”