By Joel Hall
The City of Forest Park has established its first Teen Council.
After years of planning between city and local school officials, the city has sworn in its first Teen Council members, who will learn the ins and outs of city governance and serve as a link between the city and its young constituents.
Thirty members of the 47-member Teen Council were sworn in during the City Council's regularly scheduled business meeting on Monday night at Forest Park City Hall. Another 17 members will be sworn in during the city's next business meeting, on April 19 at 7 p.m.
The middle and high school students selected to sit on the council were chosen by their peers during a "Super Tuesday" election which took place on March 16, at Forest Park High School, Forest Park Street School, Forest Park Middle School and G.P. Babb Middle School, according to Forest Park City Councilwoman Sparkle Adams, who spearheaded the Teen Council.
Each of the city's five wards, according to Adams, will have a nine-member Teen Council consisting of a mayor, five council members, a finance manager, a city manager, and a city attorney. Two of the 47 teen council members will serve as alternates, she said.
Adams, who said she envisioned a Teen Council during her first term as a city councilwoman, said the youth group will serve to mentor and groom young leaders, and give teens a way to communicate with the City Council.
"It's going to give the teens a vehicle to discuss their needs and interests outside of school," Adams said. "It gives me an opportunity to mentor teens toward community and civic involvement. It would allow us [the City Council] to mentor these young people and get a better idea of how we can assist them."
Since August of last year, Adams said, the city has hosted interest meetings for the Forest Park Teen Council, in which students discussed group bylaws and how teens could have an impact on issues such as littering, bullying, and graffiti. Adams said the five Teen Council teams will each meet once a month, and occasionally come together to participate in public service projects, and to hear from guest speakers about etiquette, public speaking, city finances and city governance.
Forest Park City Manager John Parker, who helped draft the Teen Council's bylaws, said the program will help create more involved citizens by filling in learning gaps about city government.
"They don't really teach civic studies anymore, so the kids don't know what their government does, how it is established, how it is run," Parker said. "That makes them even less interested in government when they become adults. It leads to a less-informed voter. If you can educate the younger people on what these jobs are, and what these jobs require, they can make a better decision on who to vote for when the time comes."
Alexandra Gardner, 18, a junior at Forest Park High School, was selected by her peers to be a Teen Council representative for Ward 5. She said she believes the Teen Council will enable her to advocate for her peers.
"I feel like it is a great opportunity and I'm glad that my classmates elected me," Gardner said. "I feel like it will really help me understand local government better than just from the class I had to take about it. With the teens who are my age, I can listen to them and help them, and then we can vote and decide what we want to do about the teens."
Each member of the Teen Council will have a one-year appointment, according to Adams.