New commission to involve youth in Greenwich takes shape

Decades before he was elected to the first of (so far) four terms as Greenwich’s first selectman, Peter Tesei was a teenage member of the Representative Town Meeting. As part of his time in office, he’s often spoken about getting Greenwich’s youth more involved in government.

Now a new youth commission hopes it can help break down barriers between students from various schools and provide a venue for them to pitch ideas to town leaders. And they’re doing it by going right to the source, the kids themselves, not just from Greeenwich’s public schools but from the private ones as well.

“We would like to get all the schools together, because a lot of us don’t really know one another, and to bind the schools together,” said Elizabeth Termini, a Greenwich High School senior who is a member of the newly created First Selectman’s Youth Commission.

She, along with students from private schools in town, met Sunday to help map out the new commission’s role. The meeting was held at the Greenwich Library and was the second of what was designed to be an ongoing effort to get kids more aware and involved in issues in town, especially the ones that directly impact them.

Mr. Tesei said the commission grew out of meetings he held with heads of schools in town following an issue with underage drinking at the Teen Center last year.

“That really was the flame that started it off,” Mr. Tesei said about the incident.

During his discussions with those leaders, Mr. Tesei broached the idea of bringing in a speaker on an annual basis to address teen concerns.

“I wanted to bring in a speaker of some notoriety to talk about challenges facing young people growing up in America today or growing up in a wealthy suburb today,” he said.

Those leaders instead suggested another avenue, Mr. Tesei said. He said it was Thomas Philip, headmaster at Brunswick School, who suggested a youth group.

The town does reach out to youth in the community, including through Jenny Byxbee, the town’s youth services coordinator, but Mr. Tesei agrees a commission created through his office would provide an extra outlet.

“We do a lot of things in the community, and Jenny is at the forefront of it, that speak to educating parents and working with young people and at-risk young people throughout the year.” Mr. Tesei said. “I think Tom’s point was that having something from the chief elected official’s office would be perhaps more impactful because you would engage the kids directly.”

Mr. Tesei tapped Ms. Byxbee, a Post columnist, to act as adviser to the commission.

“What is exciting about this group is that they get to help steer the conversation. It’s not necessarily us programming for them and what they ought to be doing,” Ms. Byxbee said Sunday.

Mr. Tesei agrees with Ms. Byxbee on the importance of youth members taking the wheel and driving the group.

“My view is, it is their committee. It is not my committee telling them, ‘You should do this,’” Mr. Tesei said. “It is their committee telling me that ‘we have issues with this or we would like to make an impact in our community by doing this.’”

The commission will be composed of students from Greenwich High School, Greenwich Academy, Convent of the Sacred Heart, Brunswick School and Stanwich School. Mr. Tesei and Ms. Byxbee said they may draw down into schools that offer grades eight and nine, like Greenwich Country Day School.

Ms. Byxbee said not every high school is represented yet and the group is still in its formative stage, which means that adjustments can be made as more people become involved.

Elizabeth, who is interested in criminal justice and is a member of the Greenwich Police Department’s Police Explorers in addition to all her studies at GHS, said she would like to see more interaction between police and students.

“There’s sometimes a lack of communication between the cops and the teens,” she said. “Sometimes the teens just don’t know the law.”

She also wants to break down some of the barriers that teens may feel with police.

Mr. Tesei said he will act as a facilitator to the group in seeing that their ideas and proposals are backed, although he cautioned not everything may be possible.

“If they come up with things that I advance and I meet resistance from other quarters I can’t promise them [results],” Mr. Tesei said. “I can only promise them what I can deliver on unilaterally.”

Mr. Tesei said he is eager to see the commission move forward and is interested in hearing what members have to say.

“There are things that are important for them, and we need to know what they are,” he said.

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