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Encourage a gap year between high school and college for travel

By Nikki Beard

The Brits do it. The Aussies do it. It's a tradition in Israel. The concept of a gap year between high school and university is commonplace in many parts of the globe. Unfortunately, it remains the exception here in the U.S., and as a result young people are missing out on a prime opportunity for self-betterment. Let's encourage young Arkansans to take a gap year between high school and college to travel the world.

It's a rare high school graduate who has a firm grasp on what she wants to study in college (three changes in major and a semester of exploratory electives, anyone?). Parents, save the tuition money that indecision will cost you and introduce your graduates to new cultures and ideas that may unlock a previously dormant passion and stimulate a new, more directed thirst for knowledge. Let high school graduates wander a bit and then come back with fresh eyes and a new perspective, ready to take on the next phase of life with focus and clarity.

Spending time abroad builds muscle in adaptability, problem solving, self-reliance and communication, giving young people who take a gap year a leg up in university admissions and later, the job search. Entering university life bolstered by this new maturity is sure to foster a more successful college experience. Investing in our youth in this way will lead to a great return on investment as they become the future pillars of the community.

A young person's gap-year experience starts by learning how to raise and save money for the journey. Seed money gets young travelers through their first leg, after which they can take a job overseas for cash or work a volunteer program that covers room and board. Time abroad is more rewarding when one has a purpose and can stay for a while. Working or volunteering in a country fills both criteria nicely.

Regardless of how young travelers elect to spend their time abroad, any type of self-directed exploration at that age will lead to a host of character-building opportunities. A workforce populated with well-rounded, self-assured, focused people can only be a good thing for Arkansas.

Nikki Beard is a international group travel specialist at Poe Travel. She recently lived and worked in McMurdo, Antarctica. She's traveled to all seven continents.

Volunteer

By Fernando Cutz

A recent study done by the federal government ranks Arkansas dead last, 51st among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, for hours spent per resident volunteering in their community.

When I first moved to Arkansas, I was impressed by the kindness and friendliness of everyone I met. People are genuinely interested in each other and proud of their Southern hospitality. I admire that a lot. But isn't it time we took that a step further?

Last year, a few classmates and I took it upon ourselves to drive over to the Delta region in Eastern Arkansas on a monthly basis and help mentor kids on college access. We're busy folks, and it's a long drive to get there. But doing this has quickly become one of the most meaningful and rewarding experiences I've had.

I know the Delta is a ways away for many of us, but we can look closer to home for other opportunities. There is always great need in your own backyard. Whether it's through your house of worship, your child's school, a foodbank or a local veteran's organization, what's important is to find something that you care about, and give them a bit of your time.

The impact is tremendous. In recent years, Tennessee has averaged $3.2 billion in economic benefit from the volunteering that folks did in that state. Missouri averaged $3.5 billion and Texas $13 billion. In these tough economic times, what we need is not more political bickering or protesting or grandstanding, but to extend Southern hospitality outside of our homes and into our communities. Please consider volunteering.

Fernando Cutz is the student body president at the Clinton School of Public Service. This year, he is doing his Capstone Project with U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor.

Stop tearing down old buildings

By Vanessa Norton McKuin

Throughout Arkansas, the pervasive attitude is that progress means clearing the old — sometimes to make room for the new, other times to get rid of a perceived problem. This outdated approach takes a toll on our towns and cities, stripping communities of important distinctive places, and robbing communities of the opportunity to give character-defining sites new life for the future.

Tearing down buildings is wasteful. Most debris from demolished buildings goes into landfills, increasing the burden on already stressed municipal and county resources. Materials from old buildings include old-growth timber, brick, stone and tiles that would last hundreds of years if maintained instead of discarded.

Demolition is not a development strategy. Run down, vacant neighborhoods or commercial districts are the product of long-term disinvestment, not of bad buildings. It is time to re-evaluate existing assets and re-imagine how to use them. We have examples all over Arkansas — an abandoned warehouse becomes a public library, a "haunted" hospital becomes energy-efficient affordable housing.

Old neighborhoods are well designed. Look anywhere in the country and the desirable places to live, visit and do business in are historic, walkable neighborhoods. Trendy new developments, like the Promenade at Chenal, go to great lengths to mimic the look and feel of older communities, but cannot recreate the quality, diversity and authenticity.

Instead of tearing down buildings that are vacant, abandoned or in need of updates, let's commit to finding innovative uses to reinvigorate our state's undervalued assets. Let's redirect public money set aside for demolishing buildings to stabilizing and marketing for redevelopment instead, offering incentives that leverage private investment, adopting and enforcing property maintenance codes to allow municipalities to address problem properties before condemnation and demolition become the only attractive options, adopting policies to evaluate buildings for historical significance before demolition permits are issued, and re-evaluating required parking minimums in dense communities.

Vanessa Norton McKuin is executive director of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas.

Replace stairs with slides at every school

By Max Green

Add a second floor to every elementary school, also instead of stairs have slides and eskalaters.

Nine-year-old Max Green lives in North Little Rock.

No more buyouts

By Eric Francis

The legislature should pass a law that forbids any buyout clauses for public employees in contracts. No one — not coaches, not university presidents — should be exempt. You screw up, you get fired and don't walk away with a hefty taxpayer-funded subsidy.

Eric Francis is a freelance journalist living in North Little Rock.

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