Two unrelated articles in the Review this week both touch on an issue that has long been a question in Forest Park: what is there to do around town for kids and teenagers?
First, Marty Tellalian, who announced his run for mayor, said he has been talking with residents to find out what they believe is missing in Forest Park. One of the most common answers, he told the Review, revolved around the lack of activities for children.
“The kids don’t feel part of the community,” he said.
In another article, library employees underscored the same issue.
“We have more kids than we have spaces in town. What can we give youngsters to do that’s constructive?” asked Rodger Brayden, library director.
In response, the library has laid out plans to construct a room specifically designed for teens, acting as both a social hangout and a place for study or schoolwork. From the library’s perspective, the teen room will be a nice contribution. But it’s not going to satisfy all the need. This age group is difficult to please. Tweens and teens want to get out of the house, but they lack a certain sense of freedom that comes with a driver’s license.
Traditionally, in other towns, most kids hang out with friends at the mall or a movie theater. Forest Park has neither. While we love our small shops on Madison Street, none are very conducive to double as a “hangout” for kids. As a result, we should focus our attention on developing more programs through the schools and park district.
Our schools, especially, are funded well and should consider implementing more afterschool activities. Homeowners who recently received their property tax bills may have noticed. The overwhelming majority of taxes go toward schools – about 64 percent of the bill. Of that total, roughly 40 percent is slotted for District 91. Some of that money, we hope, could be put toward this goal.
Here’s another idea: Ask the kids. Take surveys at the schools or interview students individually to find out what activities or places they’d like added to Forest Park. If they don’t feel part of the community, then asking for their input is the first step in making them feel that their opinions matter. We should listen to them and look to them for ideas as we move forward and address this problem.