Boulder Daily Camera- September 11, 2009
Today's survey could label welcoming shops
By Vanessa, Miller, Camera Staff Writer
Boulder County's young people have a few important questions for local business owners.
How do you feel about high school students coming into your business?
Do you currently employ minors? If not, why?
Starting today, a handful of Boulder Valley high school seniors will interview business owners on the Pearl Street Mall to find out how they perceive young customers and whether they respect them as prospective employees.
The high-schoolers will then review the survey responses and use them to guide their peers to the most "youth-friendly" businesses in town, said Debbie Flanders Cushing, a student and senior researcher with the University of Colorado's Children, Youth and Environments Center.
Eventually, Cushing said, the survey could manifest itself in "youth-friendly" stickers on business windows or doors, a youth guide to affable companies or a Web site targeting young people who are both looking for work or just a welcoming place to eat.
The "youth-friendly" survey is the first step in a new youth engagement initiative called "Growing up Boulder" -- backed by the city, CU's Children, Youth and Environments Center and the Boulder Valley School District. The initiative aims to build "meaningful connections" between young people, community leaders and business owners in an effort to make Boulder "a more inclusive place" for people of all ages.
"This is really about figuring out what the issues are and then taking action to resolve them," Cushing said.
CU professors and students met with Boulder County middle and high school students over the summer in anticipation of the Growing Up Boulder launch on Oct. 10. During that event, Cushing said, young people will converge to debate community issues facing their generation -- like transportation, employment, entertainment, safety and health.
CU Professor Willem van Vliet, who directs the CU research center, said today's teenager survey aims to highlight good practices that can serve as a model for other businesses.
"We hope to do this throughout Boulder County," said Jackson Porreca, 17, one of the high school seniors who will conduct the survey today. "This is our test run for the whole community."
The young participants will develop recommendations for officials who are revising the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan -- a joint plan between the city and the county regarding future growth. And they'll help develop a Youth Strategy Plan for the city.
"This is a chance for the young people to get their voices out there and to learn about engaging in the community and with city leaders," Cushing said. "It's about being heard and being respected."
The high-schoolers who interview business owners today will present their findings at the Oct. 10 event and recruit more students to continue the surveys around the community in the coming months, Cushing said.
Boulder's push to be more youth-friendly isn't a new concept, she said. Policy makers and academics around the world have worked for years to implement the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of a Child, which spells out basic rights for children.
"There is a new trend in hearing what young people need and responding to that," Cushing said.
The local initiative could make Boulder a flagship U.S. city in the implementation of the convention's principals, according the CU research center's mission.
"It is an ideal place to take the lead role among U.S. cities," according to the center. "Doing so will not only benefit Boulder's children, youth and their families, it will also retain and attract the work force that is essential to the city's economic wellbeing."
CU researchers decided to partner with city and school district officials to improve the youth climate around Boulder County after reviewing student feedback on the county's Youth Risk Behavior Survey and other similar questionnaires, Cushing said.
"We know there are some issues out there," she said, mentioning the difficulty some young people have had finding work in the community. "They've said they'll go into a store and sort of get shooed out."
Jackson, a New Vista High School senior who's helping with the survey, said many students have found that "a lot of businesses in downtown aren't that welcoming."
"Like some businesses have policies that only a certain number of youths can enter at the same time," said Fairview High School senior Michael Nehls, 17, who also will help with the survey. "They definitely watch high school youths more closely than older or younger people."
Jackson said employers' attitudes toward hiring high-schoolers are a big deal.
"Both of us have had experience that it's hard to find a job," Jackson said. "They don't have to be geared toward youth. We just want to see if they have a positive attitude toward youth taking part in their business as customers and employees."