Are true locals heard?

Community leaders consider youth voice

Eleven years ago, very few people cared about what Big Sky teens thought about their hometown needs and politics mainly because there were no teens. But since Lone Peak High School opened its doors in 2009, the teen population in the area has gone from nearly zero to well over 100. So how has the community adapted to meet and understand the needs of the ‘true locals’--kids born and raised in Big Sky?

Big Sky organizations that address and fund youth facilities and programs say they are more than open to including local teens opinions and leadership, although no firm initiatives are underway. Daniel Bierschwale, the Executive Director of the Resort Tax, said they attempted to get student input on resort tax priorities by attending sports games and farmers markets. However, it is not certain how many teens actually participated in the survey.

In the future, Bierschwale says he’d be interested in more formal participation for teens.

“We’d be open to exploring options for some kind of youth advisory group, ” said Bierschwale, who also noted that there could be potential youth internships within committees. Together these could “provide an opportunity for the youth that are interested in leadership to really engage with their community.”

Similarly, Big Sky Community Organization is very open to student participation in the future. Ciara Wolfe, the Chief Executive Officer of BSCO, said the organization had been thinking about ways to involve students in the youth areas of the new community center now under construction. Wolfe said one idea was to give the students a budget and then “they get to design and pick out all of the furniture and the games and the type of activities they want.”

In terms of leadership opportunities, Wolfe said, she had reached out to LPHS, which requires service projects. “Juniors and seniors could actually serve a full-year term on one of our committees and get experience with a board of directors,” said Wolfe, noting that this might also provide insight for the rest of our board members. “It’s important to make sure we are continually thinking about how youth use our community assets.”

Schools are obvious concerns for youth. At Big Sky Discovery Academy, student voice is being considered, says Head of School Nettie Breuner. The school created a student leadership committee and did have student participation at the board level with student representatives in attendance at several meetings. “I think having a student representative is essential because what we are doing is about students and so if we fail to take into account student perspective or we don’t hear the things that they’re feeling are important to them then we are really not doing our jobs.”

Many students at Lone Peak High School show a similar interest in being more a part of the school's decision-making. LPHS senior Michael Romney was enthusiastic about the idea. “I’ve always thought that having a student representative was a super good idea because I feel like there are a lot of things that students see in the school that could get better.” LPHS Junior Sophia Cone strongly agreed: a student would “give more insight on what the student body is feeling as a whole and give the board a different perspective on where the students are coming from.”

In fact, students--and all members of the public--who want to learn more about what is happening at the school are always welcome to attend school board meetings said BSSD#72 Board Chair Loren Bough. Additionally, public comment on non-agenda items is also accepted at the beginning of each meeting, and all board minutes are posted on the website.

While there are states that allow student representatives to school boards, Montana is not one of them. Official participation as a board member is limited by law; Montana code requires school board candidates to be 18. Nevertheless, Bough is open to investigating different ways a student could potentially sit in as a permanent observer.

LPHS Sophomore Avery Dickerson envisions a student position that takes into account students as a whole rather than individuals. “They’d be there to represent the school as students, not just as teachers or staff members.”

Carly Wilson is the Lone Peak Lookout’s Student Reporter. Born and raised in Big Sky, Carly will be a Junior at LPHS in the fall. The Lookout’s Student Reporter position is a Big Sky Youth Corps’ funded placement

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