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November 04, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, November 04, 2005

Extending a hand Extending a hand (November 04, 2005)

Mayor's Youth Conference sparks cross-generational dialogue

By Molly Tanenbaum

Dozens of students and adult community members came together Tuesday to tackle the big question on all of their minds: Can teens and adults get along?

The tenth annual Mayor's Youth Conference, organized by the city of Mountain View's Youth Advisory Group (YAG) was the first time adults were invited to participate in the day-long event, which was themed "Generations Overcoming Obstacles" and illustrated by an abstract logo of an adult and a youth on opposite sides of a river, each needing to cross to the other side to gain mutual understanding.

"This is the first event I've ever heard of where youth and adults connect," said sophomore and YAG member Nikki Pritchard.

About 120 student delegates who volunteered or were selected from local public and private schools -- including Los Altos, Mountain View and St. Francis high schools, Graham, Crittenden and Egan middle schools, Mountain View Academy and Saint Joseph School -- joined 40 adults, who represented local businesses, city departments, school boards and nonprofits.

During a morning session in the Center for the Performing Arts main stage, Mayor Matt Neely's opening remarks included a key message of the day.

"We want to let you know that the city of Mountain View values young people," Neely said.

The conference consisted of breakfast, an opening session with the large group, small group discussions, and a closing session with a break for lunch.

It wasn't until the end of the day that the mayor revealed why this message is so important for teens to hear. According to a 2005 survey of 4th through 12th graders carried out by Santa Clara County's Project Cornerstone, only 18 percent of middle and high schoolers perceive that adults in their community value them, a developmental asset that is linked to how students fare in school and beyond.

Students came up with suggestions for ways in which adults could help them, including offering internships (especially paid ones), mentoring programs and career days. Teens also came up with ways for adults to become better communicators, including honesty, listening, and explaining "why."

"If they restrict you from going out, you want to know why," said Mountain View High School sophomore Kekoa Mooney.

Cyndhia Ramat, a junior at the school, thought that spending a day with adults demonstrated to her age group that "We actually count. It's not only at school that we matter."

Event organizers were pleased at the way the new intergenerational format worked out, and thought both the teens and adults were able to learn from each other.

"I love the fact that they get to hear each other. I think it surprises the adults," said Henry Perezalonso, senior recreation coordinator for Mountain View who helped organize the conference.

Neely enjoyed watching the teens -- many of whom he knows well from his role as Mountain View High's assistant principal -- participate in the small group discussions.

"I'm really pumped because they get insightful," he said. "There's a little more exchange than is typical."

To finish the day, YAG members introduced their new Teen Friendly Business program, which developed out of an idea from last year's conference. Past conferences have prompted other changes to make Mountain View a better place for youth, such as the library's Teen Zone, as well as bike and skate parks, according to Neely.

One adult delegate, Bob Adams, hopes the knowledge gained can be extended to students who could not attend the event.

"I'd really like to see if these kids can take these experiences back to their schools and say how valuable it is," Adams said.

E-mail Molly Tanenbaum at [email protected]

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