Over the years a few high school students in Oak Park have chosen to become involved in a adult brand of after-school activity: serving as members of village commissions. Three high school students were appointed to various Oak Park commissions on Oct. 17, underscoring the village board's commitment to including perspectives from the entire community. Nina Terebessy, a junior at Oak Park and River Forest High School, was appointed to the Board of Health; Daniel Ioppolo, a junior at St. Ignatius High School, was appointed to the Community Relations Commission; and Emily Benedict, another OPRF junior, was appointed to the Environmental Energy Commission.
This isn't the first time students have been appointed to various village commissions and committees; within the last two years, there have been at least seven student appointments. The three new student appointees will be replacing the previous student commissioners, Dana Fager (Citizen Involvement), Abigail Graefe (Environmental Energy), and Matthew Terebessy (Board of Health).
Like all other village volunteers, the students go through the same screening process. Stacy Sorg, chair of the Citizen Involvement Commission, said, "They are not hand-picked, but we have been doing some outreach to the high schools to find people who are better suited to specific commissions to fit their interests."
Daniel Ioppolo heard about working with village commissions from a teacher. "My history teacher thought this would be a good thing for me," he said. Dana Fager and Nina Terebessy also were recruited by teachers.
The first student to serve on a village commission was a member of the Environmental Energy commission, and historically this has been a placement geared toward students concerned about environmental issues or who belong to environmental organizations. Emily Benedict, the newest member of that commission, joined, she says, "because you can't do much for the environment from inside school." Students were next appointed to Citizen Involvement, Community Relations, and Board of Health commissions. Some commissions students are not allowed to serve on, such as the Plan Commission or Police Oversight, but more commissions are considering taking on students. "There's going to be another added, probably Forestry," said Sokol.
High school students on village commissions has full village board support. According to Sokol, "This board is particularly enthused about having student participation."
"It's great to have participation from people of all backgrounds and all ages on our citizen commissions," said Village President David Pope. The one-year appointments broaden the commissions' representation. Sokol says that it's "certainly a wonderful way of getting involved with democracy." Stacy Sorg called it "refreshing" and the students themselves have found it to be a "pretty cool experience," according to Nina Terebessy, and "definitely a learning experience" for Daniel Ioppolo.
Past student commissioners say they enjoyed their time, and the future commissioners are looking forward to it. "It looks pretty good," said Ioppolo.
"[The Board of Health] is shedding light on some issues that I didn't know about before, like dogs in parks and adult day-care facilities," said Nina Terebessy.
Stacy Sorg, who worked closely with student commissioner Dana Fager on the Citizen Involvement Commission, was full of praise for her hard work. "She's wonderful, she's definitely a valued member of the commission?#34;our main goal is to recruit and be active in the community, and she definitely contributes and has ideas," said Sorg.
"The students have been very good members," said Sokol. Having students on the various commissions provides a perspective that may not otherwise be available to the board, added Pope. "I think that they'll participate as equal members and that their perspectives will be valued and incorporated into the work and recommendations that the commissions provide to our board in helping us set policy for the Village of Oak Park."