For the first time in 12 years, Bowie is organizing a youth forum to take the pulse of the city’s young people and find and what services, programs and amenities matter to them.
The Bowie Prevention Network, an organization run through the city’s Youth and Family Services department, is planning the forum for late fall or early spring and hopes to uncover practical ways to meet the needs of area youth, said Andra Berry, the department’s prevention coordinator.
“The youth forum 12 years ago was brought about because the adults in the community wanted to know how youth viewed their city. We wanted to hear from them how they saw their community and what they thought the strengths and weaknesses were,” Berry said. “We’re sorry it has taken us so long to have another forum, but it’s something we’d like to schedule every few years.”
The forum in 2002 involved 100 students from Bowie High School and resulted in the formation of the teen mentoring program, a collaboration between the Bowie Prevention Network and Bowie High School that connects struggling students with supportive adults, Berry said.
“To our surprise, the number one concern [students had] was wishing their friends had a caring adult in their corner,” Berry said.
Bryan Hughes of Miami, a Bowie High School graduate who lived in the city for about 20 years, was one of the first mentors in the high school program when it started, he said. Hughes, who graduated in 2002, said he remembers the school and the Bowie area undergoing a lot of changes during the time he was in high school.
“That time, from what I remember, was when they started bussing in students from other parts of the county so immediately what you had was integration [issues],” he said. “The mentoring program gave an opportunity for students who may have been struggling. Often children, because they’re going through so many changes, sometimes they don’t know how to process it [on their own].”
Hughes said he thought the forum was a valuable way to decipher the needs of high school students and determine the best way to meet those needs.
“Often when tragedies happen, like school shootings, the first question is ‘Why?’” he said. “If you had more opportunities for high school students to voice their opinions on things, you would have the opportunity to get into the mind of students and find where they’re struggling and where they need assistance.”
Berry said the planning committee for the upcoming youth forum, which includes volunteer student and adult community members, has not decided on a specific date or format for the event, but that the group has been meeting over the summer to discuss options.
While the Bowie Prevention Network primarily focuses on issues like drug, alcohol and violence prevention, Berry said the group is open to addressing whatever concerns or suggestions participating youths may have.
“Students may see [the issues] differently,” she said.