Lexis Gerard is the first Cloquet student to serve on the legislatively mandated Minnesota Youth Council. Gerard, along with more than 30 other young people from around the state, represents the “voice of the youth” to the governor and state Legislature.

A junior at Cloquet High School, Gerard is passionate about young people having more than just a voice, especially when the conversation affects youth. She’s interested in a stronger partnership between young people and adults, one that results in action, and serving as a MYC representative allows her to do just that.

“We can voice our concerns, but it’s a matter of, ‘Is it going to go anywhere? Are we just talking, or is it actually being heard?’ I think it’s easy to hear someone, but is it going to happen?” Gerard said.

MYC representatives can exercise their power in many ways, such as hearing testimonies on bills that concern young people and then writing feedback letters to the bill’s authors.

Gerard said she, along with the three other student representatives in the 8th Congressional District and another student from the 7th District, hope to talk to the Minnesota Department of Education about incorporating information on the signs of human sex trafficking into sexual education curriculum.

It’s part of a project student representatives from the two districts are partnering on that focuses on human sex trafficking. Typically, there are four representatives in each congressional district and each district picks an issue important as a project subject. Then they educate legislators and other MYC representatives on their project.

Gerard and the other students in her group are used to being warned by adults not be out late by themselves, and sometimes, not even to be out by themselves at all. Through her involvement in the REACH Inc. Mentoring Program called Students Offering Support, which meets every week, Gerard has learned much of what she knows about human sex trafficking.

“It's a serious thing,” Gerard said. “I always thought it was a guy controlling a girl, but it can easily be swapped around. You just don't hear about it. It's important to see those signs before it gets too serious.”

Minnesota Youth Council representatives for the were sworn in for the 2019-20 school year by Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan (right) and state Education Commissioner, Mary Cathryn Ricker (second from left) in August. Submitted photo
Minnesota Youth Council representatives for the were sworn in for the 2019-20 school year by Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan (right) and state Education Commissioner, Mary Cathryn Ricker (second from left) in August. Submitted photo

REACH program coordinator and SOS meeting leader Anne Parish encouraged Gerard to apply to serve on MYC. Now, Parish is Gerald’s adult adviser, a requirement for every MYC representative.

Parish is also a strong proponent of making decisions about young people that include young people.

“We love it when adults who have power want to leverage that in support of young people's ideas and visions for the community,” she said.

During semiannual SOS conferences, Gerard gets to hear from students from around the U.S. who also participate in the Reach program. She’s talked to enough young people from around the county to believe that stronger relationships between students and teachers could contribute to a healthier youth population.

For example, kids feel more connected to teachers who don’t just kick a kid out of class when they act out, Gerard said. Instead, when a teacher takes a minute to show they genuinely care, that can leave a positive effect on the student involved as well as the rest of the classroom.

While Gerard has no trouble connecting to teachers, she recognizes that many of her peers do and she wants everyone else to be afforded that same opportunity. SOS, she said, has conditioned her away from focusing on her own needs.

“I get to talk to so many kids from different schools,” Gerard said of attending SOS conferences. “...I can bring issues that Moose Lake is seeing, or Esko is seeing, and I can bring it to my own members.”

“Boom!” Parish said in response to Gerard. “Oh, Lexi, you are so brilliant!”

Another issue Gerard wants to help tackle is mental health among young people and how schools can better serve students by having more open conversations around the subject and making it easier for kids to sign up for an appointment with school counselors.

“I think a lot of kids do need help and there’s the whole thing of going into the office and everyone’s going to see them in there,” Gerard said. “... If there was more of a way for students to set up an appointment online, because having to say it in person is probably harder.”

Much of MYC is just as passionate about mental health in their schools, Gerard said. They see it too.

To serve on MYC, students in grades 8-12 have to apply or reapply every year. Gerard already plans to reapply next year.

MYC meets monthly as well as four times yearly for a multi-day retreat in which everyone work on their projects, participate in dialogues and listen to presentations. Parish said people would be surprised by just how involved the retreats are.

“You would think, ‘Oh, I’m sure they’re just like, hanging out.’ No. It’s very hard work," she said.

Gerard, on the other hand, thrives in the activity of it all.

“I'm just so proud she takes these chances and opportunities,” Parish said of Gerard. “I think it stems from her already having a web of support, so she feels confident to try these things. I just hope we can expand more webs of support for other young people, too.”