Prairie Village is starting a new program: integrating teens into the political system through the Prairie Village Teen Council. Made up of six East students, the council will have the opportunity to participate in city government and to get involved in city council meetings and other city proceedings with the mayor and city council members.
Councilwoman Jori Nelson came up with the original idea for the council, bringing it up at a council meeting several months ago. However, the entire city council came together to create the Teen Council.
“It was created to expose students to the workings of municipal government and to promote mentoring relationships with the elected officials,” asst. City Administrator Kate Gunja said, “The city council persons.”
The six students selected for the program are senior Ali Dastjerdi, senior Max Keeter, senior Denisa Butas, junior Kyle Baker, junior Gabe Altenbernd and sophomore Bailey Riecker. Nine students applied for the six spots.
Each Teen Council member will be assigned to a ward, a subdivision of the city, and each ward has two city council members. That means that each member will have two city council “mentors” for them to learn from.
“As opposed to sitting in the audience and watching as an audience, they’ll be able to sit next to their council representative,” Gunja said.
This is where the teens can have the most impact on the city, according to mayor Ron Shaffer. He believes that there is a possibility for the teens to change their council member’s mind on issues that appear in meetings, because the teens sit right next to their two assigned council members.
The Teen Council will help the six students participating as well. The members will have an opportunity to experience real life workings of the municipal government, skills that they can take back to Shawnee Mission East or to their own lives.
“I think that [Teen Council] will really allow them to connect with us,” Baker said, “And also allow us to see their point of view with things, so that we can create events that will help each other.”
The relationship between the Teen Council and the city council members will be symbiotic. The program is meant to help the kids and the adults, so they can share ideas that normally wouldn’t be shared.
“I think it will make them be more open to ideas and realize that kids have ideas too,” Riecker said.
Baker agreed with this, saying that the City Council hears more from older citizens and adults, but it’s difficult for them to find out what problems kids are having.
Baker hopes to see the overall management of the city, as well as how the city solves everyday problems. In his experience with student council, learning how to solve small problems that arise at the worst times would help him a lot. When planning a tailgate, Baker had to call around at the last minute to find a caterer, after their initial one canceled.
“I would just like to see what [council members] would do in situations like that,” Baker said. “They’re not planning tailgates, but they are doing community events that need food. I’m excited to learn different ways to stretch time and make things fit together right.”
Besides sitting with their assigned council person in at least four Council Meetings, the Teen Council members are also required to attend three committee meetings, participate in a Prairie Village Police operations tour and ride along, and set up a Public Service Project, among other activities.