City, UCS look to youth for advice

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published July 26, 2019


STERLING HEIGHTS — Sterling Heights could soon offer a new way for teens to make a difference in their local government, even before being eligible to vote.

At a July 16 meeting, the City Council voted 6-0 to introduce a proposal to create a Youth Advisory Board to generate youth-oriented ideas and proposals for city officials. Councilman Henry Yanez was absent.

The proposal will require another successful vote at a future council meeting before it can be adopted.

Assistant City Attorney Nathan Petrusak, filling in for Don DeNault Jr., said the proposal’s youth board would play “a more active role in shaping the city’s policies, events and programs.”

Under the submitted plan, the City Council would appoint 15 members every June for one-year terms. Members must undergo an interview process, have parental permission, be age 14-18, stay out of trouble, and earn a grade point average of at least 3.0 or its equivalent. Reappointment is allowed for consecutive terms.

During the school year, the youth group plans to meet at least monthly, and it would have a meeting with the public at least once annually. The youth board would also create a three-year action plan on issues young people face, which would go to the council for consideration.

City officials said Community Relations Director Melanie Davis or a designee from her department would be the liaison between the council and the teen board.

During public comment, resident Jazmine Early wanted to know if the group would be nonpartisan. She wondered whether it would be open to accepting her son, adding that the city has turned her down for appointments before. Another resident, Nicholas Cavalli, called the youth board idea “fantastic” and a good way to get young people involved in politics.

During council discussion, some council members proposed tweaks to the current plan, which might be included before the proposal faces an adoption vote.

Councilwoman Deanna Koski recalled a time many years ago when the city had a teen advisory board of around seven to 12 students, but she said over time they lost interest and the group fizzled.

Koski said she was in favor of increasing the suggested size of the board to 20, as well as relaxing the GPA standard.

“I think we should have more than 15 because they’re not going to be able to attend every single meeting,” Koski said.

“Some students may not be good at taking tests or good at achieving that 3.0, but they may be very creative (and) may have great ideas. … I think we should open it up a little bit more.”

Councilman Michael Radtke said he wanted to see the GPA requirement lowered to 2.5 or above.

In addition, as a way to encourage students to apply, Koski suggested asking local schools’ teachers to seek and supply recommendations. Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski said the application process will be open to teens outside the public schools too.

Mayor Michael Taylor said many students are eager to do extracurricular activities to supplement their college applications, and they often compete to obtain them.

“I don’t think we’re going to struggle to find ...  kids that want to be part of this,” he said.

Library, UCS seek student advice
If the proposal passes, the city of Sterling Heights will join other local institutions that have a youth panel advising them.

At the Sterling Heights Public Library, public relations and programs coordinator Jason Groth said the library started a teen advisory board in June 2017, and the group typically meets every other week. He said the participation level changes over time — five or six members have formed a core, but the meetings have had as many as 19 members.

“Basically, we have them come in here and plan programs for their fellow teens,” Groth said. “Teens are a harder audience to reach than getting adults or children (to the library). When they have the teens plan their own program ... the attendance for teens has gone up dramatically.”

So far, the teen advisory board has come up with teen activities such as an escape room challenge, spy-themed events and after-hours library parties, Groth said.

Sterling Heights Teen Librarian Tricia White said the board is a volunteer group, so sometimes teens join to earn service hours. But it’s a forum for socializing too.

“We also have a number of teens who are home-schooled in our community, and TAB has become a popular meetup spot for them as a way to engage with other students their age,” she said in an email.

“Overwhelmingly, though, I’ve found that most teens have joined simply because they genuinely want to help and the idea of working with a group of teens who are similarly motivated is exciting to them.”

White added that the advisory board fulfills the library’s mission of serving as a community information, education, entertainment and enrichment center. It also makes the library more welcoming, she added.

“By offering the teens themselves a voice in what events we plan for them, we show them that we care about what they think and that we want to see them in the library,” she said.

“It’s revolutionized our teen programming. Ever since we started the group, the number of teens we’ve had at events has skyrocketed, which shows the success of the program in furthering our mission.”

In addition, Utica Community Schools recently announced that it is looking for applicants for its own Superintendent’s Student Advisory Board, which Superintendent Christine Johns started in 2007 as an avenue for student leadership and input. UCS is opening the opportunity to students to apply through Sept. 12.

According to the district, ninth and 10th graders with strong academics, extracurricular activity backgrounds, leadership and critical thinking skills are welcome to apply.

Board members typically meet with Johns four to six times per year to discuss various issues related to topics such as academics, the classrooms and technology. School officials said the student board drove the creation of the UCS Academic Blitz, an event that informs families about the district’s programming so they could prepare and map out postsecondary education options.

The school district added that many of its high schools and junior high schools have their own student advisory boards that make recommendations to their respective principals.

Find out more about Sterling Heights by visiting or by calling (586) 446-2489. The Sterling Heights Public Library can be reached by visiting or by calling (586) 446-2665.

Find out more about the UCS Superintendent’s Student Advisory Board by visiting or by calling (586) 797-1000.