HIBBING — The Council Chamber at City Hall was bustling Wednesday as students from Hibbing High School with pizza in hand packed themselves into seats usually occupied by councilors.
City Administrator Tom Dicklich stood at the speaker’s podium and asked the 17 members of the newly formed Junior Council if they agreed on any bylaws since their first meeting last month. One student spoke up saying they’d decided anyone who gets in trouble at school and receives “weeks” — a term for when students aren’t allowed to participate in after school activities for a certain number of weeks — is automatically off the council and would have to reapply the following year.
“Does anyone not support that?” Dicklich asked the students. Hearing no rebuttals, he jotted down the new rule and listened as the students shared their next requirement: everyone must maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average to stay on the Junior Council.
City Councilor Justin Fosso also stood at the podium. He later told the Hibbing Daily Tribune on Wednesday that he thought of creating the Junior Council when he first ran for office
The idea came to him after hearing many people comment on how nice it was to see a “young person” getting involved. But at 38 years old, he didn’t consider himself all that young. So, he began wondering what could happen if high school students were given their own platform. Could teenagers inspire civic engagement?
“I did some research and saw that there are a lot of junior city councils or youth commissions that other cities had that really gave input to the city council, and I thought, ‘What a great idea for our community,’” Fosso told the HDT, noting that he often receives complaints that there are not enough people volunteering to serve in city government commissions. Starting a Junior Council now, he believed, might change that down the road.
After sharing the idea with Dicklich, the duo convinced HHS Principal Mike Finco to buy into the idea as well. Under Finco’s direction, the school began making announcements during classes to foster interest ahead of the first Junior Council meeting, though no one knew how many students would show up.
Both Fosso and Dicklich were pleasantly surprised when nearly 20 teenagers filed into the Council Chamber.
“This year we took everybody that applied,” Fosso said. “At first we thought maybe we’d hold it to three people a grade, but me and Tom figured unless it was going to be 100 kids, the more the merrier — and the more information and input we could get.”
Students from grades 9-12 are involved. They’ll continue to meet on a monthly basis throughout the school year in the Council Chamber. Fosso said he’d love if they’d continue to convene during the summer, but that, of course, is a decision for the Junior Council.
“Me and Tom like to let them learn,” Fosso said. “We explained to them, ‘This council is going to be run by you — you make up the rules.’”
During their first meeting, the students shared why they joined the council. Many expressed an interest in giving back to the community. Others wanted to make the city a place where they could live and work in after college.
“There were several who were interested in political science, too,” Fosso said. “But it was overwhelmingly them wanting to make a difference in the community, it was, like, perfect.”
Throughout the second meeting, ideas big and small flew. The students expressed their need for a community center as a place for them to hang out after school. They wanted a roller rink. More sliding hill options. They also wanted to expand on the programs they enjoy, like the Bluejacket Cafe, which is held in the HHS cafeteria on Fridays and Saturdays, offering a space for students to get together, snack and visit. Students even talked about ways to tackle drug-related problems they see happening among their peers and in their neighborhoods.
As the discussion evolved, Dicklich provided gentle guidance. A community center is a great idea, he agreed, but what type of programs could they implement now that would have little to no cost but might offer quick improvements?
More ideas flew. As the hour wound down this week, the Junior Council seemed to develop a grasp on the need for order, with several students rising as natural moderators.
Fosso smiled afterward, telling the HDT, “Today I loved how we were all over the board from the community center to ‘Let’s just go skating’ to ‘Let’s take on the drug issue and just get it done.’” He laughed. Then continued, “I was like, yes!”
Dicklich agreed and described how the exchange among students was energizing to see.
“A Junior Council has never been done, so trying something new is always interesting,” Dicklich said. “A lot of it we’re building as we go, but [Fosso] laid it out conceptually with what he’s expecting, and I thought it was a great idea. It gives the students an opportunity to be part of something.”
Both Dicklich and Fosso look forward to seeing how the Junior Council continues to evolve. Their hope for the future is to walk in, sit down and simply watch as the students conduct and control their own meetings as they work toward implementing positive change throughout their school and community.