How 36 Montana Teens Make Me A Better Leader

Last week I brought together my new class of Student Advisory Board members to speak with me about some of the challenges they face in school, share ideas, and learn from them how adults can do a better job at raising the bar in their schools.

The day-long session at Fairmont Hot Springs reminded me that there are no better solutions adults can listen to, than those that come from students.

The 36-members of my 2015-16 Student Advisory Board represent a broad cross-section of Montana. Some of these students are among the top achievers at school, others have dropped out and dropped back in. Some are sports stars, drama stars, and musicians.These are students who come from giant high schools and tiny ones.

Each bring a unique perspective on addressing the challenges that come along with being a teenager in high school. And each student challenges me as a leader in Montana to make sure I do as much as possible to make their futures bright.

SAB members worked together on skill-building, creating healthy relationships and learning how to be leaders.

When I asked the Student Advisory Board members to raise a hand if they knew someone at school who’d dropped out to join the workforce, nearly every hand in the room went up. Some students explained that their peers left school for work out of necessity. Others said some teens felt like their future in farming or the nearby oilfields wouldn’t require a high school education.

This is where adults get to step in and make it clear to Montana teens that a high school diploma is their ticket to a solid future. This is where I lean on my Student Advisory Board members to go back to their schools and provide the kind of leadership needed to show their peers that graduation matters.

When I was a teenager at Browning High School, it would have been very easy to drop out, find an entry-level job and settle. I’m so grateful that I had parents and teachers around me who lead by example and kept me moving forward. I chose not to settle. And I hope every high school student in Montana sees that their diploma is critical, not only for their own benefit, but for ensuring the entire state continues to grow jobs and opportunities for every high school and college graduate.