Friday, May 8, 2009 

MANCHESTER — If it had been a play the three teenage women from Burr and Burton Academy (BBA) would have stolen the show.

Last week seniors Campbell Halligan and Charlotte Hogan — both of whom sit on the Design Review Board as part of the Youth Commission, and Megan LaValley, who is a member of the Planning Commission — gave a presentation at the American Planning Association (APA) national conference in Minneapolis, Minn., accompanied by BBA Service Learning Program Coordinator Lani Lovisa.

In November 2006 the Orton Family Foundation partnered with BBA to form the "Youth Commission" with the intent of providing area youth a voice in local government.

The presentation at last week's national conference was designed as an opportunity for the three to tell the audience about the program and their experiences as members of their respective boards.

"Part of what made it better was that it wasn't a presentation as much as it was us just speaking about what we do and our experiences from the heart, which I think makes it a lot more interesting for them," said Hogan.

Going into the presentation, one thing Halligan, Hogan and LaValley said they were concerned about was that because of their age they would not be taken seriously — a fear that was alleviated shortly after the presentation had begun.

"I felt like we were being respected.


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As soon as we walked in there were a few people sitting in the back row, like you normally see at these kinds of things, hiding trying not to be noticed," said LaValley. "We had a few kind of people sitting in the back lagging who didn't really want to be there, but once we started talking I noticed they would move up to the front."

At the beginning of the presentation, LaValley said some of the adults seemed a little apprehensive about listening to teenagers, but quickly learned that the students had something substantive to say.

"There were a couple of people particularly who came up and just said things that made me feel like we had changed people's minds about youth involved in government and made them really decide it was good idea," said LaValley.

Halligan also felt that at the conclusion of their presentation, it seemed as though the trio had made an impact on their audience.

"I think coming away from the conference I think it was nice feeling you influenced other people's decisions on how they were going to have youth participate in their town government," she said.

LaValley said that while Burr and Burton is one of the first schools in towns across the nation to have such a program, other towns have been thinking of the concept, but have been unsure of the logistics involved in accomplishing it. The students shared with them how they were doing it in Manchester and how people could help establish similar programs in their towns.

Manchester Planning Director and Zoning Administrator Lee Krohn, who also attended the conference and introduced Halligan, Hogan and LaValley, felt that the experience was not only beneficial for the students, but for the town as well.

"It was a great opportunity for everyone. It was a great opportunity for the town to talk about this wonderful endeavor," Krohn said.