Marco Island Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee begins work on new youth council

Lisa Conley; 239-213-5308

The Marco Island Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC) hosted a special workshop Monday to discuss the creation a youth council.

Students from Marco Island Academy have shown interest in serving on the city's new youth council, Marco Island Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee members said. Committee members will also recruit students from other schools in the area, including Lely High School.

City Council Vice-Chair Jared Grifoni first pitched the idea of creating a youth council at the Jan. 9 city council meeting; the purpose of the youth council would be to give students an opportunity to gain leadership skills and learn more about city government, he said. The students could also give city council insight into the issues that directly impact them.

The City Council unanimously approved the idea and forwarded it to PRAC.

PRAC members decided that the youth council should be comprised of 10 students; although Grifoni had suggested five or seven students, PRAC members expressed concern that some students might drop out, which would pose a problem if the council was too small, they said, so they upped the number to 10.

They also agreed that the council should primarily be comprised of high school students from Marco Island and the surrounding areas, but they would consider middle schoolers who have a particular interest in the youth council or city government.

And membership shouldn’t be limited to students with outstanding academic records, PRAC members said.

“One thing that’s really important … is that we don’t disenfranchise any kind of student. Often times when you’re recruiting … we get the high-performing kids … with very little diversity,” said Jerra Minning, PRAC member and Marco Island Charter Middle School teacher. “And I really think it’s important to be all inclusive in who we’re bringing in. Maybe it’s not the student who gets all As; maybe it’s the C student, the kid who struggles (but) who would have a really different idea than the straight-A student.”

PRAC Vice-Chair and former teacher Michael Levine agreed, and said getting the school counselors involved will be a key part in finding students who are a good fit. He also said that the committee should keep the youth council’s goals vague until the council forms and the students themselves can decide what they want to accomplish.

Committee member Meg Bonos agreed.

“The sky’s the limit,” she said.

But the youth council does have an overall mission.

“We want these youth to provide suggestions to (PRAC) on how Marco Island can be a better place for the youth on the island,” Bonos said. “We also want those children to recognize the value of community service and the ‘give back’ element to make the community stronger. And I think thirdly, we want those youth to be exposed and develop stronger civic education and leadership skills that they otherwise might not get.”

Grifoni agreed with Levine and Bonos that PRAC should avoid creating specific goals or even a detailed mission statement so as not to box in the students before the council even gets off the ground.

“I know abstract is difficult sometimes, but in this case it may actually be an asset,” he said. “We really don’t know which direction they’ll want to go in (and) I’d hate to see that potential limited. They may come in and have an entirely different perspective of what’s needed.”

Or the council might start in one direction and change its mind later, he said, so there needs to be flexibility.

PRAC will host a second special workshop at 4 p.m. May 2 in the city council’s chambers, 51 Bald Eagle Drive. It will hold its regular meeting 3 p.m. Tuesday in the City Council’s chambers.