Lewiston survey focuses on youth perceptions

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LEWISTON — On one hand, there are good schools, a sense of community and good restaurants. On the other, there is the “Dirty Lew,” with crime and dwindling opportunities.

Those thoughts were expressed in a recent survey conducted by the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council. Students in fourth, eighth and 12th grade were asked about their perception of Lewiston.

Among other questions, students were asked whether they will leave or stay in Lewiston following high school, what they will look for in their community as an adult and what could possibly keep them from living here. 

When presenting the results to the City Council on Tuesday, Advisory Council member Hunter Steele said while middle school students were more likely to respond that they would leave and not return after high school, the majority of high school seniors said they plan to go away to college and return to Lewiston. 

The number of students who said they would come back was seen by city councilors as a positive step. 

According to the Advisory Council, the survey was requested by Mayor Shane Bouchard, who was “interested in the perceptions that different age groups have about Lewiston.” 

But what will make young people come back to Lewiston? The top answers were family and friends. Asked what they will want from their community as adults, the students answered a good job and a career. Other top answers: family, friends and a safe community. 

On the other hand, when asked what might prevent them from coming back to Lewiston, students said crime and a lack of opportunities. 

That sentiment mirrored responses to what students said they hear other people saying about Lewiston. Among their answers: “Dirty Lew,” “bad place,” “dangerous” and “boring.” 

After seeing the results, members of the Advisory Council compiled its list of what they think Lewiston represents. 

“That last slide was concerning to LYAC, as we know that Lewiston is so much more than negative comments,” an Advisory Council statement said. “We’ve been doing outreach to enhance Lewiston’s image, and we will continue.” 

The Advisory Council’s list includes positives such as history, restaurants, arts community, diversity, thriving downtown, schools and festivals. 

The Advisory Council was established in 2001, with a mission of empowering youth and undertaking service projects that enhance the community. The Advisory Council chairman serves as a liaison between youth and the city by giving regular updates at City Council meetings. 

Its members have focused on Lewiston’s image with a number of initiatives over the past few years.

Eight new members were appointed Tuesday for the next school year. 

To be considered for membership on the Advisory Council, applicants must be in grades nine through 12 at either Lewiston High School or St. Dominic Academy — or will be in the fall — or a Lewiston resident at the time of filing for application. 

In the survey results, there were also some quirky answers that made it clear which age group was responding.

The most popular answer for where students want to live was “a large house,” as opposed to a medium or small house, apartment or condominium. 

To little surprise, elementary school students responded that, as adults, they will be looking for parks — perhaps with playgrounds on the mind — in their community as adults. 

While the insight may be helpful to Lewiston officials, the online survey did not receive the amount of feedback originally hoped for. Out of 235 high school seniors who received the survey, 65 responded. At the middle school, 33 of 373 responded. 

The largest survey group was fourth-graders — more than 300 of them. That’s because Advisory Council members met with them in the classroom at all six elementary schools. 

Dot Perham-Whittier, community relations coordinator and adviser to the Advisory Council, said the students “worked very hard at this” during the school year. Steele even finished compiling the results after school was out. 

Perham-Whittier said the full survey will be online this week at www.lewistonmaine.gov/lyac.

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The Lewiston Youth Advisory Council spent a number of months putting together and issuing a survey of fellow Lewiston students. 

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