Governor's Institutes Give Teens Chance To Dig Deeper

07/07/12 8:34AM By Susan Keese
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Governor's Institutes/Karen Taylor Mitchell
Osgun Baykal of Turkey and Michaela Halnon of Milton participate in the Governor's Institutes of Vermont at the School for International Training in Brattleboro.
For many high school students, summer is a welcome break from academic work. But some have an urge to dig deeper. Every summer hundreds of motivated teens get to do that at the Governor's Institutes of Vermont, held on college campuses around the state.

Toby Marx-Dunn of Jericho was one of more than fifty Vermont students who took part in the Governor's Institute on Current Issues and Youth Activism at the School for International Training in Brattleboro.

It was one of seven institutes planned for this summer. The sessions, which last from one to two weeks, are on topics ranging from the arts to engineering, Asian cultures, environmental science and Moore,

Marx-Dunn is accustomed to being the only person in his class with a burning desire to discuss the Euro or the U.S. banking system.

"There aren't very many teenagers that care," he says.

On this day, he was part of a group of teens crowding around an economist who had given a talk on the distribution of wealth. At one point during the talk, Marx-Dunn challenged the speaker.

 "They were talking about exporting jobs out of the country," he recalls. " But they're not our jobs to export. I think those jobs should be in Bangladesh."

Marx-Dunn says he's still figuring out what he thinks about different issues. He came to the institute to learn and soak up differing opinions. He loves it that this institute includes students from several different countries.

"My roommate is actually from Ireland," he says. "And we've been up very late the past two nights talking about the differences between American society and Irish society."

Michaela Halnon, a senior from Milton High, had an ‘aha!' moment when Osgin Baykal, a Turkish student, spoke up in a class on the problems caused by unexploded land mines.  He stated unapologetically that his country used mines and attempted to explain why.  

Halnon and Baykal continued the conversation later during some free time.

Halnon told Baykul that she was shocked at first by his statement.

 "When you first said you put land mines on the border to keep out Syrians and I was like ‘Well! That's just not right' But then you were saying, ‘My father's a soldier and we're seeing things first hand.' And I don't think I completely changed my mind, but I heard a different side of it and it made me not be so stuck in my opinion."

Baykal says he came to the School for International Training looking for ideas and for allies -- people who believe, as he does, that they are responsible for solving problems such as terrorism, world hunger and global warming.

"Because if I won't do, you won't do, who will fix the world? We've got to do something," he asserted. "Because it is our world and we are living in it."

Karen Taylor Mitchell is the executive director of the Governor's Institutes.  She says the students in the current issues institute study the background issues behind the world's most pressing problems. They also gather resources and contacts that could help them make a difference.

Taylor Mitchell says the networking that happens here is important.

 "They're getting connected right here with other students here that are concerned about these things, and gaining the skills here too to be able to work on these issues productively, to generate conversations that are not just all one side or the other side."

Taylor Mitchell says the hope is that the students will return to their schools ready to lead the conversations they hope will happen.

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