70 high school students in Pioneers Youth Leadership and 5 Pioneers alumni serving as counselors in the program participated in the Pioneers State Leadership Forum in Austin last week. Over two days, the students worked with state agencies and elected officials to find ways to meet the challenges that rural Texas communities face regarding water, education and economic development.
“These high school students in Pioneers are working hard to develop solutions to the most critical problems facing rural Texas,” said Real County Judge Garry Merritt. “These young men and women are the future of our communities, and I am proud of them for stepping up the challenge.”
The Leadership Forum began on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives, where the Pioneers learned strategies for building collaboration among state leadership for the benefit of rural Texas communities. The students then worked with staff from the Texas Water Development Board to prioritize water conservation methods and identify needed water infrastructure projects in the students’ counties.
The Pioneers next worked with staff from the Texas Department of Agriculture to define the attributes of rural communities that enhance and detract from local economic development and that make youth more or less likely to remain in or return to their community after high school. Finally, the Pioneers worked with staff from the Texas Education Agency to develop programs to address drop out prevention, early education, and more effective use of technology.
“This kind of intensive work between Texas high school students and state agencies had never been done before,” said Pioneers Program Director Travis Helm. “Nothing is more important in rural Texas than water, education and jobs. These Pioneers students are showing that they can make a difference in their own communities.”
Pioneers Youth Leadership is a learning-through action leadership and community development program for high school students in grades 10-12. There are 120 students in this year’s program in 10 counties – Mason, Dimmit, Edwards, Kimble, Kinney, Menard, La Salle, Real, Uvalde, and Zavala.
Members of this year’s Mason County Pioneers class are Ashley McLaughlin, Claudia Canfield, Cristina Mejia, Heather Shaw, Jayde Lopez-Witt, Kirsten Shaw, Lydia Bierschwale, Madelyn Glentz, Monaco Schmidt, Nicholas Dyer, Nicholas Martin, Riley Pape, Sierra Martin, and Spencer Bierschwale.