South Charlotte

And she's only a high school freshman

Providence Day School freshman and Matthews resident Emily Ashkin will spend the next year getting a portrait of local government that no textbook can offer.

The town of Matthews Planning Board recently selected Ashkin, 14, to spend a year on the board, which decides zoning, new developments and land use.

The idea is to have a well-rounded board with people who can offer different perspectives and generate discussion, said Matthews Planning Director Kathi Ingrish.

The seven board members are appointed citizen volunteers and most are middle-aged adults. Having a student serve on the board could make for more comprehensive discussions, Ingrish said.

Though Ashkin isn't a voting member, she will have all the other rights of the board, such as the ability to research, to ask questions of staff and petitioners, and to have a voice at the public meetings.

"I'll get to see the life of local government," said Ashkin.

"We want to have her tell us, from a youthful perspective, some of the issues she might see that we wouldn't see," said Ingrish.

Ashkin is the second student to serve on the Matthews Planning Board. Last year's student, Katie Walker, was a senior at Charlotte Catholic High School.

While on the planning board, Walker developed a basic plan for a small pocket park, where the abandoned water tower was along Matthews-Mint Hill Road. Walker presented her plan to the Matthews Board of Commissioners, and Ashkin could be asked to do something similar.

When they decided to continue with the student program, the town sent out a press release, asking for applicants.

Ashkin heard about the opportunity from her global civics teacher and promptly applied.

Jim Jiles, chairman of the Matthews Planning Board, said they hadn't planned on having a student so young on the board, but Ashkin impressed them with her maturity.

"She had...picked up what our planning board does, what our goals are, what the mission statement of the town of Matthews is and what it means," said Jiles. "She was very enthusiastic about having some input into the direction that the town of Matthews is headed."

In her interview, Ashkin mentioned a project she'd done that studied water quality and treatments, particularly in developing nations. She had reviewed Mecklenburg County's water statistics and developed a working water treatment system model with PVC pipe.

"Even I, as a professional engineer, didn't accomplish or attack those types of projects until I was in college," said Jiles. "And here she is a freshman in high school."

Ashkin will attend monthly meetings of the town's planning board and board of commissioners. She'll also complete individual activities, such as interviewing a local representative, shadowing a professional planner or completing a research project on a community-planning topic.

"(I'm) learning how these processes work, instead of just from a textbook in class," said Ashkin. "We are the people of tomorrow, so...for youth to be exposed to this kind of local-government environment, it's setting us up for the future."