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Inspire: Student councillors connect municipality with youth voice

Marathon student councillors provide insight for the town council on youth community voices.

MARATHON — As young people are becoming more politically and socially conscious, municipal councils might consider the advantages of adding a student’s voice to their municipal discussions.

For the last 13 years, the municipality of Marathon has welcome two student councillors to sit beside their fellow council members discussing the important issues affecting the town.

The discussion would include a wide range of topic that is being presented by the administrative staff; however, student councillors are not able to vote when it comes to making decisions because they are not elected officials.  

The council agenda also designates time for student councillors to present a report.  

"We have a designated time to speak and inform the council on the goings on of the high school and student voice,” said Olli Zelek, one of Marathon’s student councillors.

As part of the requirement for obtaining the position of student councillor, Zelek is a member of their high school’s student council; thus, Zelek is tapped into the veins of the student body.

“We are very active in our school community. We’re athletes. We’re on the student council. We have extracurriculars. We are very connected with the academic classes. So, a lot of the news we share is the goings on in the high school that we already know. However, if we want to get a specific voice who will talk with the student council about what reports, we bring those in,” said Zelek.

A particular topic Zelek is looking forward to presenting to the town council is what they refer to as a “crash course on gender and sexuality.”

“To speak about myself as a councillor, specifically, I am the first openly trans councillor in Marathon. So, I think that brings a unique opportunity for the council to learn from me. I am constantly trying to educate and bring awareness to a perspective that no-trans folk might not see super easily. Whether it be about bathrooms or legislators that use certain pronouns. Being at the table allows for that constant input and voice and option that isn’t always seen,” Zelek said.

Zelek wants to engage with the pollical perspective around differences between sex and gender.

"I think there is a lot of confusion around that. Where people believe the parts you are born with have something to do with gender when that is not necessarily true. Gender is who this person is, not what they have. Talking about that, I feel like there is this misconception that a trans-person is either a man or a woman trying to be something else and that’s not the case at all. A trans-person is a trans-person. A trans-man or a trans-woman is a trans-man or a trans-woman no matter what parts they have,” Zelek said.

For Zelek, being a student councillor extends beyond being the student’s voice. Zelek has always been an active member of the community, volunteering in many events wherever possible. The active role in council chambers has provided insight into how the community operates.

“I love helping my community,” said Zelek. “The thought of being able to do that through the school and through council is really interesting.”

Zelek acknowledges that they have had a unique perspective of politics through their father Ray Lake, who has served on Marathon’s council for two terms.

“I saw him acting as a town councillor for a long time and it was super inspiring to me because we want to be like our parents when they’re succeeding in it,” Zelek said.

Whenever Zelek has general inquiries about municipal politics or community concerns, Zelek’s parents didn’t shy away from issues affecting the community.

“There has always been this dialogue about the community in my house. It’s very open and it gives me a chance to speak,” Zelek said.

Inside council chambers, Zelek feels that the success of the student councillor position stems from a council that actively listens to the student’s councillor's report and engages by asking questions.

“When we speak, we never feel patronized like we are children. It feels like we are at the table. It’s just with a youth voice. I think that’s a very powerful thing,” Zelek said.

Although there are many benefits to municipal councils in harnessing a connection with the youth in their communities, the student councillor gains a behind-the-scenes look at how municipal politics work.

For example, Zelek said the community voice is the most important part of their voice.

“With the deputations that we have, where the community comes in, they’re always very receptive to that voice. I wasn’t expecting that when I first joined. But they are so receptive to the community and willing to help,” Zelek said.

Although Zelek values the experience of being a municipal leader, being a politician isn't necessarily the career path, instead with passion in the sciences; particularly, wildlife biology. Zelek envisions a future as a wildlife veterinarian. However, Zelek admits that if they were to enter politics it would be on the municipal level.

“I have a love for science. I want to go into science. I want to go to university,” said Zelek.

“But despite that, I do think in my future I would want to be part of a municipality, whether that be as part of a council or not. I think that wherever I do settle I would, alongside my job in the sciences, I would love to be a part of a town council just because I’ve seen the impact and importance in the community and the importance of having a town council that cares.”

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