The Port High School Student Union, a space designed by youth for their peers to enjoy, is the perfect teen hangout.
By Tanya A. Yacina
Last year, the age-old question of “I’m bored; what is there to do?” was permanently answered when The Port High School Student Union opened, serving as a daily retreat for Laguna Beach’s teen community. Located at Lang Park, the facility is student-run, though its launch was in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach, and is open to all high school students during the week.
The student union offers free activities for teens, as well as a place to study, work with others when applying to colleges or simply to hang out. Inside, the space is filled with plenty of tables and chairs, comfy couches, computers, an art station with supplies, musical instruments, murals, a coffee shop, college banners and even a record machine with vinyl albums donated by Sound Spectrum. Every so often, teens also have an opportunity to earn community service hours necessary for graduation; the center also hosts events such as movie nights. Laguna resident Kisha Maher was recently brought on to oversee the center.
Two of the teens involved in the project—Finley Flanagan, a senior at Laguna Beach High School and the union’s founder, and Yekaterina Sterligova, a LBHS sophomore—share more about the project here. Those interested in visiting The Port are invited to attend an open house May 19 from 4:30-7 p.m.
What is the purpose of the student union?
Finley Flanagan: The Port was established to guide … teens through their high school years. I had created a survey and the answers indicated that local teens wanted a space of their own. I took the idea to the Boys & Girls Club teen committee to see if we could get something like this implemented and it went from there.
Yekaterina Sterligova: The purpose of the student union is to establish a fun and safe environment for high school students to hang out together. The Port was established with the help of mostly senior students from last year, then expanded into what it is today.
What are your goals for The Port?
FF: I have an ongoing list of goals that I add to every day—I want The Port to be more than just a hub for community service, jobs and college applications. I think we should create more events that have a purpose and build a sense of community among teens. Also, I want to ensure that we have mental health support and dedicated college application support for this group, rather than someone coming in every few weeks.
What values do you feel are important to incorporate into the center?
FF: [The center] … incorporates values such as inclusivity and diversity, and we provide positive mentorship through older students mentoring younger students and through the help of the adult staff at The Port. We also try to emphasize the importance of setting realistic personal goals. We provide a safe space for all; you want to talk to someone, you can.
YS: I truly believe the most important thing that could be incorporated into the center is … [a wider range of] people who attend. I think, right now, the center has the image that it’s only there for people who are interested in college applications or community service hours, but there are a lot of other things you could enjoy while being there.
Why do you like having this center as a place to go?
FF: My favorite part is coming in to see all the kids … working together. I’m just a kid with ideas and sometimes they get implemented and sometimes they don’t. I’m really glad that I’ve been able to come in here to see tangible work that I’ve done.
YS: You get to enjoy your time with your friends while doing multiple community services. That’s my favorite part of The Port: I get to enjoy both the company of my friends and the fun activities The Port has to offer.
Why is it important for teens in the community to have access to this type of center?
FF: The obvious reason is that no one has done anything like this in Laguna before. Having a place to go and talk things out with other kids my age, who are going through the same things I am going through, really helps. It makes all the difference.
What do you tell your friends and classmates about the student center?
FF: It’s a super awesome, inclusive hangout for teens where they can do almost anything that interests them. And, if we don’t have an activity they want to participate in, let us know and we’ll try to get their requests in, too.
YS: I let them know that this center was specifically designed for us high schoolers to let loose and have fun while also being able to have the space to study and get community service hours. It’s fun, it’s free and, most of all, it’s a place for just high school students.