High School Students Offer a Fresh Perspective at Economic Development Summit

TEA Students Participated in the Tahoe Economic Summit as the "Youth Voice"

In late fall, 11th and 12th grade U.S. Government and Politics students from Tahoe Expedition Academy were invited to participate in the Tahoe Economic Summit hosted by the Tahoe Prosperity Center. TEA students, along with other students from South Tahoe High School, participated in the Summit’s workshops as the “youth voice” alongside over 150 professionals from around the Lake Tahoe area. By the end of the Summit, the students came to realize that government isn’t always the solution to economic challenges, especially in Lake Tahoe where the 5 counties and 2 states that surround the lake create an environment of red tape and bureaucracy that breaks traditional government structures down. As a result, creating economic prosperity in the Lake Tahoe region would require action from all citizens of Lake Tahoe, including themselves. But would a group of high school students be heard? Would they be taken seriously? Could they rise to the challenge and use their voice even though they were not “experts?” As it turns out – the organizers and attendees of the Summit were listening. “We so appreciated their fresh perspectives and their different ways of looking at things. These are heavy issues. We haven’t figured these things out. We need new energy, new voices, and new ideas. I love that there were student voices present.” said Heidi Hill-Drum, the event organizer and head of the Tahoe Prosperity Center. The students also came to realize that they represent the future workforce of Lake Tahoe and they are currently developing skills that have the potential to positively impact the economy in Lake Tahoe. They realized they have a voice and that it is being heard.

The Summit kicked off keynote presentation by Gino Borges, a Ph.D., who is also Partner and Director of Impact at OpenPath Investments – an organization that transforms ordinary apartment complexes into thriving communities via their Urban Village program. Gino spoke about building community through sharing economies, an idea that would re-surface throughout the summit.

After the keynote, conference attendees were broken up into three workgroup sessions: workforce, housing, and entrepreneurship. In the morning the groups discussed the problems and in the afternoon they worked on solutions. TEA students were mixed into each of these groups, enabling them to add their voices to the conversations alongside area professionals.

Marcus, a junior at TEA, took part in the entrepreneurship session. Doing that session Marcus was introduced to Shawn Kernes – former CTO/VP of Technology at StubHub. Shawn has recently moved to Lake Tahoe and was attending the summit to speak about non-location-based industries. “It was eye-opening to hear Shawn talk,” Marcus commented. “He was very critical about everything being discussed, and had some cool ideas about how we can adjust our reliance on tourism-based economic development through non-location-based businesses.” Marcus continued by saying, “We talked about how we depend on tourism too much, which is true, but that we need to because our population is small.” Could non-location-based industry be a solution to that problem? TEA students are now a part of that discussion.

By the end of the Summit, all of the students were participating and their voices were being heard. However, all-day conferences represent a significant challenge in itself for anybody. Especially for a group of high school students who are used to an experiential learning environment where engagement is emphasized first and foremost. Finley, a junior at TEA commented, “I’m 16 and my attention span is 1/15th of the rest of the people who attended the Summit. There was some good activity at the end of the day where we were more involved in the discussion, but I need to work on my attention span. That was not what I’m used to.” We’re sure that anyone who has ever attended an all-day conference can appreciate that sentiment.

So what next? Jason, a senior at TEA had this takeaway. “Having these actual conversations is incredibly important. Whether that conversation is between generations or between public and private sectors, being able to be in a room with my peers and this wide variety of professionals was huge for us.” Seems this is just the beginning for this group of students. Thank you to our board chair, Ken Martin, for facilitating TEA’s introduction to the Tahoe Prosperity Center. Thank you to Heidi Hill Drum for inviting our area youth to participate and giving them a voice. And thank you most of all to our students for playing an active role in the Summit, and for persevering their first “all day” conference.