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Out of the Woods / Give Staples students a seat at the table

Published 7:59 am, Saturday, November 9, 2013
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Now that the election campaign has passed in Westport and all of the charges and countercharges are history, I think it's important to concentrate on one positive concept that needs to be seriously considered by everyone.

During one of the final debates at Staples High School, both the Republican candidate for first selectman, Jim Marpe, and the Democratic candidate, Helen Garten, agreed on an idea whose time has come: involve more Staples students in local government.

"Listening is so important. It's an important quality for all of us to listen," Marpe said. At the same time, he added that he would be interested in hearing from teenagers on what they'd like have downtown. "It is so important that we listen to get your input about what you would like to be doing."

Garten agreed. "It's time to build a closer relationship with government and residents," she told the students. "Westport is not a business. Westport is a community, and we need to engage all residents. I promise that I will always keep you informed, always be available to hear your ideas and always seek your help and guidance."

Marpe came up with an especially novel idea. He suggested a student attend Board of Selectmen meetings as a non-voting member so officials could hear the perspective of teenagers.

In her closing statement, Garten stressed that she would like to make downtown a place for adults and teenagers to gather, an idea that has been brought up in the past but very little has been done about it through the years.

The idea of students being involved in the decision-making process by the Board of Selectmen offers even more fertile ground. Why not ask the students to elect non-voting members to all public boards and agencies in town? As someone brought up during the course of the campaign, as a group, they could serve as a "shadow government" in town.

What's even more tantalizing is if the student representatives expressed their own views regularly in Inklings, Staples' nationally-recognized, award winning newspaper, they can offer special insights on virtually all town activities that affect them.

All of which leads to a suggestion of my own: A few years ago, I was invited by the Inklings staff to address them. I learned a lot about their operation and how they covered the news. Why not invite other local professional media people different fields to do the same? That would certainly go a long way to bring students closer to the community and, at the same time, enable them to get the "inside story" on future career choices.

Woody Klein is a Westport writer, and his "Out of the Woods" appears every other Friday. He can be reached at wklein11@aol.com