Juneau trying to get young people to stay

Posted: Friday, May 21, 2010

JUNEAU (AP) -- Around 250 students from Juneau's three high schools gathered May 6 at Centennial Hall to brainstorm ways to make Juneau more appealing to the younger generation.

"Juneau 2012 and Beyond" was inspired by last year's community-wide Capital City Forum, said Mayor Bruce Botelho, who proposed the idea and moderated the talks.

"We spend a lot of time as adults lamenting the loss of students -- our young people," Botelho said. "If the city is trying to figure out things we should be doing to entice them to stay, the obvious thing to do is to ask students."

Students gathered at tables centered around one of 10 topic areas: education and training, employment and internships, entertainment, housing, going green, indoor recreation, Juneau pride, mental and physical health, outdoor recreation or technology.

A sampling of the students' ideas:

Trail improvement, more readily available information about Juneau resources, an Alaska NFL team, laser tag, paintball, a road out of Juneau, cheaper air flights, earlier school start times, a water park, improvements to the school's laptop program, elimination of Thunder Mountain High School's "no electronics" policy, more summer dances, a monorail to downtown, the North Douglas Crossing, expanding road access and housing on Douglas, better regulations for prescription drugs, more drug testing in schools, more counseling opportunities, more jobs for younger students, more summer jobs, better care for seniors, better ferry service and a public graffiti wall.

"I came because I want to be a part of Juneau's future," said Juneau-Douglas High School sophomore Claressa Ullmayer. "Juneau has its problems, but it's a great community ... it's a good place to raise kids. You learn with a smaller community, so you interact more, instead of just being a number."

As someone who wants to own her own restaurant, Ullmayer said a morning panel of local graduates and entrepreneurs was helpful.

TMHS sophomore James Gilchrest said part of what that panel's members said resonated with him: as a hometown, Juneau "may not look so good right now, as you're young, but it's going to come back to you, whether you like it or not," he said. "It's going to be with you forever."

Gilchrest said he plans to live in Juneau.

"I think there's a lot of opportunity, but people don't search for it. They don't really research it," Gilchrest said.

TMHS freshman Madeleina Ellingson-VanSickle, however, said she didn't feel optimistic about opportunities in Juneau.

"There isn't a lot of opportunity here," she said. "I don't think I'll come back for a long time."

After the students' brainstorming session, a panel of local experts helped identify potential challenges associated with their ideas, as well as which ones were more viable. Then, the students prioritized.

Parks and Recreation Director Marc Matsil said some of the students' ideas, such as trail improvements, are already under way. And as for a water park, the Dimond Park Aquatic Center, slated to open in February 2010, is a bit of one, he said, adding that Juneau is "a veritable and virtual waterpark."

"This is wonderful," he said. "If we can get students more engaged and involved with groups like the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, (that would be great.)"

TMHS English and social studies teacher Tonja Moser said the opportunity for students to not only share fresh ideas, but to share them with elected officials, is "a great experience."

"It's really neat to have that adult connection to really make it happen," Moser said.

Assembly member Merrill Sanford said it's possible, if the kids came up with a great idea, the Assembly could act on it. He gestured toward a table brainstorming on housing.

"We can't seem to come up with an answer (for housing), so if they could, it would be great," he said.

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