SAN ANTONIO – Nationwide, more high school student advocates are making their voices heard, and in the Alamo City, the mayor and City Council have chosen a group of local students to lead the San Antonio Youth Commission.
KSAT's Max Massey sat down with members of the commission and Mayor Ron Nirenberg to find out what the group does and what its plans are for the future.
How is this group formed?
Students from around San Antonio can apply to become representatives. Each member of the City Council and the mayor hand selects the representatives through an application process.
“It's really important that young people know they have a voice in our community. They also have a role to play,” Nirenberg said.
How does the group function?
The 22 students who are selected meet on a regular basis to discuss the issues that relate to them. These issues can range from national problems to local conversations as trivial as potholes.
“We should feel safe in our schools. We should feel safe in our communities, so making sure the youth is involved in the conversation (will make) everyone feel safe in our schools and our communities,” said Audrey Herrera, a member of the commission and a junior at the International School of the Americas.
The students are the voices for the rest of their peers. The commission uses social media, surveys and even large-scale forums to find out the problems local youth face now or may face in the future, and they work together to brainstorm solutions.
“As informed residents thinking about how they want to see the city develop, topics of concern for them knowing it’s the youth in our community that will have to live the longest with the consequences of our decisions,” Nirenberg said about the commission’s role.
As many of these students are under the voting age and tax-paying age, why should their voices be heard?
“All opinions matter, and yeah, we might not have solutions for everything right now, but we can still be a part of the problem-solving process,” said Esmeralda Castillo, a high school senior and chairwoman of the commission. “We think differently. We have different perspectives, especially because the world is always changing.”
The mayor and the City Council believe the youth's perspectives are significant, considering the politically active students could be the future leaders of the Alamo City.
“Youth are very important to the city. We are the future of the city and all issues are also youth issues, so we are working on highlighting the voices. We are focused on making sure our voices are being represented in our government,” Herrera said.
How are these voices of the youth heard now?
This commission has been around for decades, but this year was a landmark year with a presentation and discussion with the City Council and the mayor, and it seems like it will be far from the last.
“I'm going to make it a priority to make sure they have as large a platform as possible to tell the public of San Antonio what they're concerned about,” Nirenberg said.
As for the students, they believe this year is only the start of great things to come.
“We are going to be bigger and better next year, attending more events, hosting more summits to reach more youth, and we plan on really flushing out our public policy ideas so we can work to implement them in our city,” Herrera said.