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Engage High School Seniors Now to Ensure Your Community's Future Later

The pandemic has dealt all of us some interesting circumstances. This time will certainly be one for the history books. The graduating class of 2020 will have something to tell their grandchildren. It has been a difficult of a time for seniors due to so many missed “lasts.”

linton senior yard signs

Despite these challenges, it has been a pleasant surprise to see communities across North Dakota rally around these young people, today’s best and brightest. I have heard stories of calls to action to raise funds to purchase yard signs and banners to hang on main street light poles featuring pictures of the 2020 seniors.  The Linton School orchestrated a parade featuring school staff, administrators and of course the custodial engineers “mopping up COVID” with mops in hand, to the end the parade on a high note.  There has been a ground swell of support for these very special people. “We will use this time in our lives to learn and grow, coming out stronger and more knowledgeable than ever before. We will remain positively reflective of this time to shape and mold us into the school we are always striving to be.” Erin Huber, Linton Elementary Principal

I have overheard heard conversations where people are asking “do you think we can do this again next year?”  The citizens of ND have seen the power of collective citizenry. Margaret Mead, American Anthropologist said” Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

Communities who have embraced their high school students and have made them part of projects, and not just the cleanup crew, but really brought them in and made them part of community projects and decision making, have seen a greater return of these young professionals once they have sought out their education and world experiences. As mentioned on the NDCOMPASS.org website, Civic engagement helps youth and young adults build social capital and skills that can help them find meaningful education and career pathways. They know they have a place to call home and raise their own families. Community leaders may consider the following options when considering how to include youth in community endeavors while building loyalty:

  • ASK them. Convene students and ask them what their vision for their community is. What kind of community do they want to live in?
  • Invite them to city council meetings, and include them in discussion.
  • Appoint them to a committee they may have an interest in
  • Host a career fair where local business people can visit with students about job opportunities and salaries associated with jobs. Convey to students what your community needs, for example, an electrician, an accountant, etc.
  • Finally, tell them you want them back!  They need to know they are wanted and that their community needs them.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau, indicates that in ND, there is growth in entry and prime labor force, this information could lend itself to a positive growth in ND communities which contributes to the concept of the Brain Gain theory that educated, young adults are migrating back to rural communities. Trends like these don’t just happen. These trends happen by community leaders being committed and deliberate in not only recruitment but in retention of their youth.

Maybe not all things should go back to “normal”. Let’s continue to honor our young people and embrace their ideas and youth and tell them again and again about the opportunities that are available in your community. 

 

Jodi Bruns, Leadership and Civic Engagement Specialist

Filed under: lce news
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