High Schoolers Get Crash Course in City Politics

By Beacon Staff

For 20 Flathead High School students, Monday night’s public hearing on the Glacier Town Center proved to be a lesson in civil engagement. But students were not there to hear what Citizens for a Better Flathead or developer Bucky Wolford’s camp had to say. At least, not initially.

Students were at the Kalispell City Council meeting, according to Flathead High School government teacher Sean O’Donnell, to present issues that they had researched over the previous two months.

“One of the requirements of their senior year government course was for them to speak in front of a public agency,” O’Donnell said. “It was their job to find issues in the community that were important to them and present possible solutions.”

Among the student issues were: crosswalk safety, littering, homeless, cleanliness of the Woodland Park pond, need for guard rails and the plowing of snow on roads commuting to and from Flathead High School.

And then, in a noble way, there was an opportunity for them to witness possible solutions to what can sometimes be a lengthy procedure.

“It was particularly nice to have the Bucky Wolford issue as the focal point of the meeting because they got a real sense of the process,” O’Donnell said. “This has been two months for us versus eight years for them,” referring to the council.

Prior to Monday’s meeting many of the students had only seen city council proceedings on public access television.

“They were surprised to see so many people there,” O’Donnell said. “It was a little tougher than they expected but that was the educational element, the realization for them.”

Only six students remained after the two-hour session adjourned, but a discussion that started within the confines of a courtroom carried over to the sidewalk.

“I told them that I would stay as long as they did,” O’Donnell said. “I was amazed that six stuck it out all the way through, but as I was leaving there were three more outside. They were arguing about the Wolford issue and that’s the connection we wanted, it was exciting.”