Teens Taking Adult Leadership Roles From City Councils To State Boards, Area Students Make Big Contributions
Teenagers Tim Coley, Christa Countryman and Katy Turner threaten to give the MTV generation a good name with the over-the-hill crowd.
Coley, Countryman and Turner - among other Eastern Washington teens - have taken adult leadership roles on everything from the Davenport City Council to the state Public Lands Advisory Committee.
The teens may not get to vote, but they perform the same often-tedious duties as their adult counterparts, wading through reports and listening to testimony. They ask questions and give their opinions.
Coley, 17, a Davenport High School junior, serves as a non-voting member of the Davenport council when he’s not busy with school activities such as swing choir, pep band, Honor Society, Science Club and Future Business Leaders of America.
The City Council appointment is one of Coley’s duties as student body vice president. Davenport officials hope students will express their concerns about the city through Coley.
So far, though, Coley said, his classmates “are more worried about me keeping the pop machine filled.” That’s one of the vice president’s other duties.
If all that weren’t enough, Coley also is a non-voting member of the Lincoln Hospital Foundation board in Davenport.
So is Countryman, 18, a Harrington High School senior who also works with teachers and other adults on her school’s Learning Improvement Team.
“It’s a little bit intimidating, but I’m getting used to it,” said Countryman, who has given a couple of presentations to the school board.
Last week, she helped sell the school board on a goal of removing junior high students from the high school.
“We thought it was important to get them out of the high school environment so they could grow up on their own,” Countryman said.
Countryman’s other activities include being president of the Honor Society and the Future Business Leaders of America, being class secretary for the fourth year and playing volleyball.
Turner, 15, an Omak High School freshman, arguably has the highest-ranking job among the region’s teenagers. She’s a full-fledged member of a committee that advises state Public Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher.
“It’s been great,” Turner said, even though the job has kept her too busy to participate in school sports. “It’s a good learning experience.”
Like other members of the committee, she flies to quarterly meetings around the state. Turner was irritated when a letter to the editor of the Omak Chronicle complained about the state paying for her transportation.
“There are some smart teenagers out there who do understand things, contrary to what people might believe, and kids do care about things,” she said.
Turner was selected as a seventh-grader in 1993 for the committee, which was being formed then. Her math teacher had told her to investigate a job she’d like to have and see how it would use math.
Turner was interested in the committee because she’d like to promote a balance between protecting the environment and protecting the timber and other resource industries.
She got an A when she reported all the board feet and budgets a lands commissioner has to calculate. Turner also got an A in an interview with Belcher, who surprised her with an appointment to the Public Lands Advisory Committee that began meeting last fall.
“She is absolutely delightful,” Belcher said. “She is bright and she just amazes me because she is very sophisticated for a 15-year-old. She is able to hold her own with this very savvy group of adults, and she brings a fresh perspective to our discussions.”
Belcher credits Turner for convincing the state Department of Natural Resources to put more emphasis on educational programs.
“She’s really keen on naturalresources education, and she has made all of us more aware of the need to work with students,” Belcher said.
Like Turner, Countryman and Coley also are nearly straight-A students and are highly regarded by the adults with whom they serve.
“I think their interest in whatever is going on around them is what I like about them,” said Lincoln Hospital Foundation Director Linda Wagner.
She said the foundation was so pleased with Harrington High student Scott Liddell’s ground-breaking participation last year that board members decided to appoint two students this year.
Coley and Countryman are particularly well-suited for the hospital’s fund-raising organization. He wants to be a doctor; she plans a career in physical therapy.
Councilman Chuck Johnston said Coley’s eye for detail turned up an error in a resolution last week that no one else had caught.
“He carries himself like a very responsible young adult, and when he asks a question, it’s a good one,” Mayor Carr Killin said.
On one occasion, Coley questioned a mother about her responsibility when she complained that no police officer had been available to break up a teenage drinking party her daughter was attending.
Coley has had a taste of defeat, too. When a constituent called for a ban on tobacco at a baseball field shared by the city and school district, he tried to sell the idea to the council.
“After listening to a couple of them, I realized it was kind of a futile effort,” he said. “They felt it was going too far.”
Still, Councilman Johnston gives Coley high marks for the effort: “He carried the ball for it, and he did a real good job.”
Turner said she’s learned that philosophical views on land management have to be tempered by laws that spell out the state’s obligations.
She also has learned to deal with lobbying by a myriad of competing interests. Organizations have swamped her with leaflets and videotapes, and acquaintances all feel obliged to share their wisdom.
“You have to take so much flak from everybody,” Turner said. “Everybody wants you to do what they want right now.”
And, of course, there are the classmates who call her “the commish.”