Students serve as representatives of youths in city government

October 28, 2021 — by Carolyn Wang
Photo by Timothy Leung
Commissioners pose with their DIY scarecrow for the city’s scarecrow contest

Every other Tuesday, 11 middle school and high school students meet to discuss initiatives ranging from craft socials for students with disabilities to YouTube discussion sessions and events like Color Runs and Saratoga Kindness Week.

The group, known as the Saratoga Youth Commission, consists of seventh to 12th graders who serve as a liaison between the city council and Saratoga’s youths. The commission, which typically conducts all meetings and events in-person, had shifted to an online model during the pandemic, but with loosening restrictions the commissioners devised a hybrid mode of operation.

“Last year, we met on Zoom with the exception of our last event, Toga Trails,” said freshman Timothy Leung, whose position is marketing chair. “This year, we’ve kind of swapped back and forth between being in-person and online.”

According to second-year commissioner senior Linnea Bradley, the city held an in-person training session before they officially began meeting at City Hall, where commissioners learned how to make motions and brainstormed a potential work plan.

On the other hand, the commission presented their 2021-2022 year work plan to the City Council during a virtual joint meeting on Sept. 15, after which the plan was remotely approved for funding. 

Despite the in-person and online formats, the basic procedure of proposing events has not changed from past years. Beginning with a brainstorm session, the commissioners met together and came up with an overall theme of “building community and character.” They then devised three overarching categories for their events: inclusivity, unplugging and socializing. 

Some of the ideas that arose, such as the creation of Downtown Saratoga Guides, a teen art festival and community scavenger hunt, reflected the loosening pandemic restrictions, but were still tentative depending on COVID-19 conditions in the future, Leung said. 

For example, in replacement of the annual 5K Color Dash held in the past, the commission will continue with the more socially distanced Toga Trails, a month-long hiking scavenger hunt in the spring where community members hike at one of four approved hiking trails. It garnered more than 200 participants last year. 

In response to mental health challenges teens face in the current aftermath of over a year of isolation, the commission also plans on creating an accessible Mental Health Directory in collaboration with the high school’s CASSY, as well as extending the virtual Saratoga Speaks initiative, which provides a platform for teens to discuss issues they care about.

However, even with the promise of remote events and a relatively successful virtual term last year to go off of, Leung felt the virtual alternatives still lacked the experience of physical interactions.

“I didn’t feel like we were able to bond as much last year on Zoom. It felt like we were all apart and it was hard to share ideas,” Leung said. “But when we were in person this year [during the training], we didn’t have to click unmute. We could just say our thoughts and it was a lot nicer being with everyone.”

Despite these hurdles, Bradley has noticed an increase in her ability to reach out and communicate with people.

“The Youth Commission is a great place to make your voice heard and actually do things for your community,” Bradley said. “[From the experience], I’ve definitely strengthened my time management and prioritization skills.”


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