On November 9, State Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) brought together dozens of high school students from across the 59th Senate District to participate in his annual Youth Advisory Council, a unique opportunity for area students to learn about state government and public policy.
"As with many things this year, the ongoing health pandemic created an unprecedented challenge for hosting my annual Youth Advisory Council. However, after reaching out to schools and watching students adapt to changes in the wake of COVID-19, I felt confident that we could still hold this event and provide our students with the opportunity to learn and engage in public policy," said Sen. Fowler. "This is the fourth year I've hosted this event and, while it definitely looked different this year, it still provided students with a platform to hear from local leaders, voice their opinions and engage in the issues most important to them."
"I was interested in joining the Youth Advisory Council because it is a great opportunity to get involved with local and state leaders and learn what is truly going on behind closed doors in our state," said Katie McAnnally from Harrisburg High School. "I am so thankful and honored as a student and person to be involved."
This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions and to ensure the safety of area students, Sen. Fowler hosted his annual Youth Advisory Council virtually. Students from Zeigler Royalton High School, Harrisburg High School, Pope County High School, Eldorado High School, Anna-Jonesboro High School, Vienna High School, Crab Orchard High School, Hamilton County High School, Benton High School, Carrier Mills High School, Century High School, Cobden High School, Johnston City High School and Joppa High School participated. Students were chosen based on recommendations made by area administrators and local educators.
As part of the event, Sen. Fowler invited local community leaders to speak to the students, including: Jeff McGoy, the Director of Exploratory Student Advisement Center for Learning Support Services at Southern Illinois University; Mike Absher, the Mayor of Marion; and Austin A. Lane, the Chancellor of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Sen. Fowler also spoke about his experience as an area businessman, state legislator and philanthropist in Southern Illinois.
"I was thrilled to be able to hear from so many local leaders and hear about exciting things happening in our region," said Caden Cockburn from Johnston City High. "I thought it was encouraging to see leaders who truly cared about our region and the people who live here and see the positive actions they are taking to make the region an even better place."
Students were also asked to participate in a roundtable discussion about issues important to them and how the ongoing health pandemic has impacted their lives.
In the past, this discussion would be the basis for the spring meeting of the Youth Advisory Council where Sen. Fowler would bring the students to Springfield to continue the discussion about the legislative process from the Capitol, and give the students the opportunity to witness state government in action.
"While we do not know what the future holds for this event in the spring, I am hopeful that we will be able to bring these students together again, in one capacity or another, to continue this discussion, provide more insight into state government, and promote civic engagement in a younger generation," said Sen. Fowler.