The Northwest Civic Association's program that offers Centennial High School students a chance to serve as full, voting members of the board of trustees will be making a comeback, although not as quickly as the organization's leaders had hoped.

Centennial Principal Stephanie Porta terminated the longstanding relationship with the civic group just over a year ago after the four students who had just stepped down as trustees complained of the toxic environment that existed as a result of infighting among the top officers of the civic association's board.

This turmoil burst into public view at the organization's annual meeting June 7, 2017, when then-President John Ehlers accused Vice President Kyle Hartman of conspiring with other officers to wrest the top post from him.

In the wake of that revelation, which led to the eventual ouster of both Ehlers and Hartman as officers, student trustees Sarah Hangen, Rachel Massey, Regina Cavin and Sara Abou Rashed penned a letter describing negative aspects of their experience participating in a program that dated to the 1980s.

"We are disturbed that board members are so ashamed of certain unnecessary behaviors that have occurred in front of high school trustees to the point where they feel the need to usher us out of meetings into a less toxic environment on several occasions," they wrote.

"We are troubled that the public was unaware of the concealed drama that took place during executive sessions. It was uncomfortable for these issues to be addressed in a veiled manner to the public where no true explanation was actually given.

"It left a bad aftertaste as we ended our responsibilities with the board."

Porta subsequently announced her decision to cease having her students serve as trustees.

NWCA President Nick Cipiti raised the issue of resurrecting the student trustee program this year during the June 20 special meeting that was called to elect officers.

"I think we're in a position to start it up again," he said, and volunteered along with NWCA Secretary Alyson Miles to meet with officials at Centennial to explore the possibility.

It worked.

"The folks from the Northwest Civic Association did meet with the principal at Centennial," Scott Varner, executive director of strategic communications and public relations for Columbus City Schools wrote in a July 9 email.

"We have committed to working with the association to redesign the program so that it is a positive learning experience for our students, with lessons on constructive dialogue and community participation," Varner wrote.

"It's the principal's hope that the program could be re-launched for the 2019-2020 school year, so not the new school year that starts in a couple of months but the following year.

"That should provide more than enough additional time needed to collaborate with the association on this effort."

"I'm really excited that it's coming back," Miles said. "I'm looking forward to having it not only for Northwest Civic, but also for the students."

"I think it's the right time to bring it back."

"Alyson and I met with the principal and the program director at Centennial a few weeks ago," Cipiti wrote in a July 11 email.

"They are enthusiastic about getting the program up and running again. We discussed the possibility of starting up for this school year, but given the late date, we don't want to rush, but rather take our time to review the program's goals and objectives to put together a more meaningful intern program.

"Alyson and I are preparing an outline for a new and improved program that will be comprehensive in introducing the students to city government, citizens' responsibilities, and the role of local civic associations.

"We hope to arrange for field trips to government offices, city and perhaps state government."

"We are definitely still in the planning stages," Miles said.

"I want people to keep in mind, we are planning the next phase of it. We're not doing something completely different. We're looking to recreate the program ... working with the school on what they need and what the students need."


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