Students at the State House

By Rep. KATE WEBB

As we say good bye to February and head toward Town Meeting, it seems that perhaps we need a little good news. The good news: students. Over the last month, the House Education Committee on which I serve has heard from a variety of student organizations who spoke to us about their research, their opinions, their recommendations, and their requests. Here are a few of the organizations and the students who presented in February:

The Governor’s Institute of Vermont came to life 35 years ago under Governor Snelling. Each year, 600 students choose between 13 residential opportunities over the summer and winter break. They take a deep dive into over 50 topics ranging from science, to design-build, to IT, to art. Every state dollar of investment, we learned, is matched 4:1 with private dollars. Students from Vermont schools shared their experiences as well as the delight in connecting with a broad variety of students from around the state.

The Vermont Future Business Leaders of America helps to inspire and prepare students to become community-minded business leaders in a global society through relevant career preparation and leadership experiences.  With a mission to “bring business and education together in a positive working relationship through innovative leadership and career development programs,” Champlain Valley Union High School students Ethan and Noah described business learning and leadership experiences. Noah serves as Vermont Future Business Leaders of America president.

UVM Extension 4-H program is designed to provide positive youth development opportunities in three primary content areas: civic engagement, healthy living and science. They also offer a Tri-State Ag Tour that helps build 4-H’ers awareness of lesser known careers in and around the food systems. The Teens Reaching Youth program offers leadership opportunities in renewable energy, waste systems, forests and trees, connecting them with real-world solutions. We heard from Shelburne 4-H-er Lena about her experiences at our local fairs, vet and science programs as well as a trip to Washington, D.C. Continuing Vermont’s reputation for high quality food systems will soon be in the hands of these young Vermonters.

Our Voices Exposed is a student-led group concerned with the dangerous influence of flavored tobacco products that are encouraging student use. Speaking inside and outside of the State House, students asserted that the sweet, colorful but toxic flavors are designed to pull in teens who will become lifelong users. They were very effective, citing research and observation of use within their schools. The House passed a bill imposing a 92 percent tax on e-cigarettes in hopes of dissuading teens from vaping. It is now in the Senate.

Vermont Afterschool Programs, offering “third space” opportunities may be one of the best ways to help build resilience, particularly those living in stress-filled environments. As Vergennes Youth Council member Olivia explained, “The third space for youth is everywhere that is not home and not school.” Her schoolmate Bradley told us that easy access to third space allow them to “gain all the social and academic aspects of life they want and also gives them an easy way to work with an adult.” Alia from Winooski told us that she would not have had anything to do while she waited for a ride home. Afterschool, the Summer Learning Day and the Youth Rights Summit brought her to writing the Youth Declaration of Rights, as well as submitting Youth4Youth grants.

Representative Brumsted and I look forward to seeing you at the town dinner before Town Meeting on Monday March 4, 5:30-7:30.  It is easiest to reach me through email: kwebb@leg.state.vt.us.

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