Will M. Nelson

North Dakota students feel unheard. We have been hampered by a global pandemic, distorted by the stories dominating the national political media and dismissed because we are adolescents. Rather than make a wishlist of legislative priorities, we are simply asking the North Dakota Legislature to listen to us. We want them to see us where we are and to legislate accordingly.

Attentively sitting on the couch, I can still vividly remember the night of March 15, 2020. Gov. Doug Burgum announced school would be canceled and the COVID-19 pandemic had spurred him to declare a state of emergency. Nearly three years later, we are still living with the impacts. Our standardized test scores have declined. Students struggle with their mental health. We have a shortage of in-person teachers, guidance counselors and other educators.

While our communities and school districts are trying their best to address these problems, there is still a need for state legislative attention. We could increase funding for mental health professionals and entice more teachers to move to or to stay in North Dakota. COVID-19 upended everyone’s lives, but for students and the future of this great state, we need our legislators to be our best advocates.

In an era of such potent political partisanship, national issues often become state issues. The bills passed in one state can become the next legislative priority for a whole host of others. A wide array of these political narratives center around adolescents. States ban certain topics from being discussed in our schools, certain books from being on the shelves of our libraries and certain people from participating in our school activities. These priorities often exclude, demoralize and silence the students who need our help most. Students are looking for more inclusion, acceptance and tolerance. If anything, before acting on these political narratives, we simply ask that our legislators meet with and listen to the students who would be most impacted.

Often, parents assume they know the priorities and concerns of their children. Many North Dakota legislators are parents, grandparents, caretakers or they interact with youth regularly. While it comes with the best intentions, please don’t make too many assumptions. Take a moment to listen to the concerns of North Dakota’s young people. We have voices that need to be amplified. With the important issues facing the Legislature in the 2023 session, we simply ask for our input to be listened to. Good public policy is born out of consensus and acknowledgment of who it will most clearly impact.

Will M. Nelson, 18, is a senior at Jamestown High School, where he is involved in swimming, speech, DECA, National Honor Society and Student Council. He enjoys reading, debating and hiking. Will is the son of Stephanie and William Nelson, members of Northern Plains Electric Cooperative.