High-schoolers on the state Student Advisory Board met for their spring retreat in Billings on Friday and quickly got to work on solving all the world’s problems.
The idea was to teach the students how policy creation works and how, as teenagers, they can be a voice for change in the world.
“When they step forward, they’re going to have this in the backpack,” said Denise Juneau, state superintendent of schools.
And it’s important they have it, she said. “They’re going to be our future leaders — in our state, the country, in their communities.”
The Student Advisory Board is made up of 36 high school students from across Montana and is part of the statewide Graduation Matters initiative.
Graduation Matters is designed to help Montana students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers.
“With Graduation Matters, we’re trying to promote student voices,” Juneau said.
It’s something the students on the advisory board relish.
“It’s beneficial,” said Nicolas Wahl, a senior from Skyview High in Billings. “And it’s given me ideas.”
The group first got together Thursday night just to meet and talk. Conversation quickly turned from casual to serious as the students tackled the economy, and national debt and other big-topic issues.
Juneau was surprised. And impressed.
“They’re from all walks of life, but they get it,” she said.
Beth Sutter, a senior from Custer County District High School in Miles City, talked about how eye-opening the retreat has been and how it’s changed her opinions of other parts of the state.
“It’s interesting to see what other schools do,” she said. “And to see other people’s points of view.”
For her, that’s been the most rewarding part of the experience. They talked about how to solve problems directly impacting high school students, like college affordability and career-readiness.
But coming together and working with other students was what made the retreat so valuable.
“It’s really cool working collaboratively,” she said.
Wahl was surprised at how well everyone got along, regardless of how different their opinions became. In some ways, it wasn’t too hard to come to a consensus.
“We can have different views,” he said. “In the end, we all agree on something.”
At the retreat was a panel of experts that included state Rep. Donald Jones, state Sen. Robyn Driscoll, Dan Carter, chief of community affairs for ExxonMobil and Dr. Johnel Barcus with Sage Quest Consulting.
Working with the panel, the students divided into groups, worked on solutions to the issues they had chosen to tackle and then figured out how to sell those solutions to different groups, like business leaders and legislators.
They learned it was a lot of work to create policy and then get people to buy in. Some found that they even enjoyed it.
“I know that’s what I want,” Wahl said. “To help others do great things.”