Cooper O’Connell (‘25): Franklin County’s Representative in the State Youth Council


Cooper O’Connell (’25)

Patricia Noza, Writer

On Nov. 1, Cooper O’Connell (‘25) received an email while in his geometry class. Before his excitement, O’Connell said the moment was very nerve-racking. This email happened to be his acceptance letter to the Vermont State Youth Council. 

So, what is the Vermont State Youth Council? Governor Phil Scott signed H.293, an act that established the creation of the council. The group is composed of 28 students in Vermont. According to O’Connell, each county has one to three representatives from ages 11-18. O’Connell is the only member from Franklin County and also happens to go to Bellows Free Academy. 

O’Connell said that the Council’s job is to advise the governor and his general assembly annually on topics that impact and can impact youth, such as equity and climate change. They also work with legislators to advise them on specific bills that could be passed. In the future, Council members will also have the option to write bills. O’Connell also stated that they will have four live hearings where people can come to ask questions. 

The application form to join was an online document where you filled in your information such as age and ethnicity and answered a series of thought-provoking questions. O’Connell said his application took him around two weeks to complete.

“There were a lot of questions about your identity, and I was really conflicted about what to write for that. I ended up spinning [the answers] into ‘Not everything is about what you like’ to really bring my personality into it. I also think mentioning my Native American heritage was a large contributing factor to my acceptance because this is a really equity-focused based Council.”

When asked about an issue affecting Vermont students, O’Connell said, “I wrote about how teachers should take at least a day class on how to administer NARCAN. Before I wrote my answer, I did some research and went to the nurse to talk about how many nasal sprays of NARCAN are around the school, and she said that there’s only one in the nurse’s office. This was very concerning to me.

According to NARCAN, its nasal spray is, “A potential life-saving medication designed to help reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in minutes.”

“I’ve definitely seen kids under the influence of drugs here at BFA and there is a possibility of an overdose. So I’d written on how teachers should be trained on how to administer it and keep it in the classroom because the really unique thing about NARCAN is that you’re advised to use it when you even have the suspicion that someone may have overdosed because it doesn’t have any negative effects unless there’s an allergic reaction. It is also protected under the Good Samaritan Law, so there are no ramifications if anything goes wrong,” O’Connell said. 

According to O’Connell, the Council had its first meeting on Dec. 13., which consisted of icebreakers, an introduction as to what the Council will do and discussions about certain equity topics.

“One of the activities…involved pictures of people considered to be leaders around the room.  For example, Judge Jackson and Michelle Obama. We all went around with sticky notes and wrote down what makes them a leader, and I thought it was a really interesting activity because it was a pretty large array of people.”

The Council was broken into multiple committees. One that he applied for was the education committee. “I’d really like to see something about PLPs [Personal Learning Plans] because I know a lot of kids struggle with them. I’ve seen personally that a lot of kids don’t benefit from them, but it also leaves them to not really try on them, so it comes out to feel like a waste of time. I’d like to see some changes in that. It also ties into the work I do at VTDigger because our project…is Act 77, so I’ve gotten knowledge from students across the state about their experiences with PLPs, so I feel like the information I’m receiving from those students can help with certain decisions I can make on that committee.”

Although it is unsure yet whether members of the Council can be reelected, O’Connell said he hopes to accomplish as much as possible in his three-year commitment to the Council.