A group of Edmonds high school students are fighting to ensure teenagers’ voices are heard on important issues facing the city.
The Edmonds Youth Commission held a forum Thursday inviting teens in Edmonds to share their opinions on challenging topics and bring feedback to city officials to ensure teen viewpoints are represented in the city’s policy making decisions.
The youth commission was created by the Edmonds City Council in January after local high school students decided to become more civically engaged and start attending council meetings. When the students asked what more they could do to become involved, then-City Council President Mike Nelson suggested creation of a youth commission.
The commission’s mission is “to protect, preserve and enhance the quality of life for Edmonds youth by advising the city council and the public on issues relating to youth policies, programs and opportunities.”
Edmonds-Woodway High School seniors Stephany Janssen and Kaleb Nichols — who founded and now co-chair the commission — said they felt teens should have a platform to give opinions on topics that affect them.
“We came together and thought there are so many things we can do together outside of our schools to make the whole entire city a better place for youth,” Janssen said.
During the Thursday forum, the youth commissioners led discussions on topics like diversity, sexual assault, mental illness, climate change and hate crimes. Teens attending were then asked to voice their opinions or offer feedback.
During the discussion about hate crimes in the city, teens talked about recent events like the white nationalist flyers that showed up in Edmonds’ Maplewood neighborhood in January, the Harvey’s Lounge bartender who was arrested for allegedly using racial slurs at a couple of black teenagers while waving a baseball bat and the Edmonds Bakery owner who came under fire for selling Valentine’s Day cookies that read “Build the Wall.”
Teens also discussed the city’s plans to combat climate change. They learned about different ways they could promote climate protection in their daily lives, like riding the bus instead of driving, promoting environmental protection clubs at high schools and conserving energy by unplugging things like phone and computer chargers when they are not being used.
When deciding which topics were going to be presented during the forum, Janssen said the commissioners wanted to focus on what they felt were the most important to teens but were not discussed enough. During the forum, Janssen led the discussion on sexual assault, because she said sexual harassment is something she experiences regularly.
“Several council members were surprised to hear my account and the frequency of it,” she said. “So, it kind of shows that disparity between what’s happening and what council knows about, because there aren’t youth advocates.”
Nichols said he was motivated by the recent wave of school shootings across the nation, particularly the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida that resulted in 17 deaths.
“That really got me mad and upset with the way things are going in our country,” he said. “I wanted to start making a difference.”
Though school shootings were not a topic at Thursday’s forum, Janssen said the commission is hoping to hold a future forum just for school shootings. An issue like school shootings can trigger a domino effect with high school students who will develop anxiety about going to school out of fear there may be a shooting, she added.
“This is hopefully just the beginning of what will be several more forums about other issues,” Janssen said.
Edmonds Youth Commission meetings are held on the first and third Wednesday every month, from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Frances Anderson Center in room 123. The meetings are open to Edmonds teens between the ages of 13-18 years old.
–Story and photo by Cody Sexton