DENVER – Young people often feel more comfortable chatting online about their troubles than talking about them face-to-face, so Colorado students should have round-the-clock access to counselors through online chats, the Colorado Youth Advisory Council recommended this week.
Schools also should implement fact-based, rather than “fear-based,” drug-education programs; follow examples set by New York and Chicago by setting up peer-mentoring programs; and increase funding for school-based health centers, the youth council recommended at a presentation attended by 16 of the state’s 100 legislators.
Two Durango students, Logan Graham and Raven Fallon-Cyr, serve on the Youth Advisory Council.
Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, founded the council in 2008 with two goals in mind: to get young people involved in state government and to bring a youth perspective that rarely is heard inside the Capitol. For example, legislators often push for funding for school counselors, but youth council members say many students are embarrassed to be seen in the counselor’s office and would rather discuss their problems through a computer keyboard.
“Colorado youth should know our diverse group is working hard, and also having some fun along the way, to represent the best interests of young people in our state,” said Graham, a junior at Durango High School who serves as vicechairman of the council.
The group meets several times a year to identify the issues most important to young Coloradans. In previous years, legislators have been struck by powerful testimony from its members on the prevalence of youth suicide.
This year’s recommendations fell into four categories: the academic achievement gap, jobs and higher education, behavioral health care and energy development.
“Fear-based” drug-education programs like DARE don’t work, the council’s report said. Instead, the state should fund a fact-based program that gives students unbiased information that will help them make informed decisions about drugs, the council recommended.
Legislators have been struggling with writing the country’s first regulations for legal marijuana, and Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, asked whether pot use in high schools has gone up since Amendment 64 passed in 2012. Nearly every one of the three dozen youth council members nodded yes.
“So many of my peers say, well, it’s legal, so it’s good for me,” said Hannah Weaver-Adeyemi of Fort Collins.
The youth council’s recommendations for energy policies raised the eyebrows of some legislators.
Graham said the council is encouraged that Colorado ranks high among the states for its use of wind and solar power.
“We want to grow into a state where we have clean and renewable energy,” Graham said.
Other recommendations, though, closely mirror some Republican policies. The council recommended capping severance-tax payments to cities that ban hydraulic fracturing, including new hydroelectric power in the state’s definition of renewable energy, and delaying the 2020 renewable-energy mandate until 2025. All three ideas have been the subject of party-line votes in the Legislature.
“Your proposals would become very partisan very fast,” said Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, attended the presentation despite opposing the council’s creation six years ago.
“I voted ‘no’ originally, but I’m kinda warming up to you now,” Cadman said.