Print Edition: June 18, 2014
These high school students are combatting political apathy in youth by getting early exposure to the municipal political process.
The city of Abbotsford’s annual Youth Shadow Council program allows students to “shadow” city council members for a few months, during which time these students are able to learn, work, and grow.
“They accompany us to meetings, have chats over coffee, go to events with us, and finally, sit beside us at a council meeting in April. Each councillor will go over that day’s agenda with the students prior to the meeting, explain the reports, and have discussions about the issues,” Abbotsford city councillor Patricia Ross explains. “Then, for several of the items, after council has already discussed them and voted on it, the students would have their own discussion and their own ‘shadow council’ vote.”
Although the votes of the students can’t count legally, this allows them to practice voting so they can be informed for the real thing once the time comes. The students gain knowledge and experience from this program, and the councillors have something to gain as well.
“We hope to both learn from our younger generation what their needs, hopes, and dreams are, [and] learn from conversations with them what their perspective is on issues,” Ross says, “[while] at the same time, inform them more about city government, our community, and inspire them to get involved in the community; perhaps [they will] work at City Hall someday, either as staff or an elected city councillor or mayor.”
In addition to guiding students through the duration of the program, Ross also says she remains in contact with her mentees afterward.
“I still stay in touch with all the students I’ve worked with over the years, and it is so exciting to see how they grow and succeed in life. I try to help them still, advise and mentor them, [and] give them letters of reference if they want that,” she says.
Even though the participating students gain a life-long mentor as well as hands-on experience in government, Ross notes that another purpose for the program is to increase the number of young voters within our community.
“The younger generation typically doesn’t [use] their right to vote, but if only they knew the incredible power they have to completely change the political landscape and the way things are run, I am sure they would vote more often,” she says. “Maybe they don’t feel connected to the city government very much, and that could very well be a failing on our part, so this whole Youth Shadow Council program is an attempt to change that, to do better to engage them with us, have them talk to us about their concerns and suggestions so we can make better decisions that help them succeed in life.”
Not only are the students gaining experience with politics, but their engagement inspires those they work with.
“I am so impressed by our younger generation that they make me very hopeful for a bright future,” Ross says.