Northfield’s new bike path looked great on paper.
The planning board was about to sign the new section of trail when someone sitting at the table noticed something everyone had missed.
The trail passed through the alternative high school. But there was no track in the plans to give students access.
“Light bulbs have gone out for the planning commission,” said Meleah Follen, director of youth engagement at the Northfield Healthy Community Initiative. “Yeah, why are we creating a bike path if you can’t use it to get to school?” “And no one had seen him.”
The only member of the planning committee who had seen him was another high school student.
“If you are asking yourself: Why would they need a young person on a planning committee? Said Follen, who oversees the city’s Youth on Boards program. “That is why.”
Currently, more than 90 students sit on more than 30 community boards, councils and committees.
They consult the mayor and the school board. You’ll find them at work at the Economic Development Authority, Human Rights Commission, Housing & Redevelopment, Parks & Recreation, Arts & Culture Commission, Northfield Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, Environmental Quality Commission, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Steering. Library Committee and Council.
Members of Youth on Boards advise the Historical Society, the Arts Guild, the YMCA, the League of Women Voters and United Way. They study finances, adhere to the rules of Robert’s order. They are committed to showing off, to listening attentively and to expressing themselves.
And when they speak, the boards listen.
“We have a lot of opinions that we would like to share,” said Amelia Arnold, senior at Northfield High School. “If we are given the space, we will share it.”
Last year she had an idea and worked until it became school district policy.
When the school board approved Policy 950, Arnold read the district’s first land recognition on the public record.
The Northfield School District recognizes that we reside in the homeland of the Wahpekute Tribe of the Dakota Nation. We recognize wrongdoing, past and present, and strive to repair and strengthen our relationship with Indigenous peoples.
“It’s not a short process. It took us a whole school year,” she said. Students chose the language, researched terminology, and worked with the school district’s policy committee.
“And now,” she said, “we have this very good policy.”
At the start of the school year, a school-wide ad ran: If you want to connect with your community, sign up for Youth on Boards.
Northfield senior Collin Thomas-Green has signed up. Now he’s leading the Mayor’s Youth Council Events and Programming Subcommittee and is taking an in-depth look at a low-income housing project proposed to city council.
“It’s not every day, in every city in the United States, that young people have such an impact,” he said. “If we talk to the mayor, if we go to city council meetings and actually speak up, there’s no doubt in my mind that they take that into account.”
Thomas-Green looks forward to a future forum between the Youth Council and Northfield Police. He has questions about the department’s body camera policy.
“Young people are not a small demographic,” he said. “Most adults listen.”
If you are thinking of talking about policies that affect young people, you should start by listening. This is exactly what the Youth On Boards style programs in Minnesota are all about.
An hour north of Northfield, dozens of students in grades 8-12 are participating in the Minneapolis Youth Congress. Motto: “No decisions about us without us.”
St. Paul City Council just approved new members of the city’s Youth on Boards program last week. Look for them with the Commission for Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunities. The Business Review Board. The capital improvement budget committee.
“When you believe in kids, you help them develop their skills and you give them practice – they can do some pretty amazing things,” said Matt Hillmann, principal of Northfield Public Schools. “A lot of teenagers are selfless. They are looking to make their community a better place. “
Northfield’s Youth on Boards program has been booming since its inception as the mayor’s youth council in 2006. Over the years, Hillmann said, his students have changed the trajectory of city politics.
“I think we sometimes stereotype teenagers,” he said. “When we show them that we believe in them, [they] can do some pretty amazing things. It gives me a lot of hope and confidence in our future. “