Local program aims to engage youth in local government

Civics programs are one way to help youth learn how local decisions are made.

Traverse City West Senior High School teacher .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), along with City commissioner Gary Howe and City Clerk Benjamin Marentette, created a program for his students that brought learning from the classroom to the real world. Mr. Ready created the outline for the proposed Adopt-A-Commissioner Youth Engagement Program in the 2015-2016 school year with City of Traverse city commissioners. The goal of the program was to “increase youth involvement and investment in solving local problems” and “develop skills and leadership needed to navigate through institutions and community contexts to effect positive change.” 

Teams of five to six students from Mr. Ready’s government and civics classes adopted a commissioner for a semester. They met at least once a month throughout that semester to discuss current issues and events and work on a semester-long community team project. The students began with a class visit to participating commissioners and the city clerk to introduce the role of city government, elicit topics of interest from students, and have student teams adopt a commissioner for the semester. The expectation was that the teams met at least once a month to discuss current interests and develop their individualized program. It was envisioned that commissioners would help facilitate a team project, engage students on current issues, provide factual context to issues, receive constructive student input, and generally demonstrate the positives of community engagement and civic mindedness.

The program is now in its second year, and Mr. Ready explains, “What really impressed me last year was how excited the kids were learning about local issues. For example, one day my students came back from meeting with a commissioner about the tall building controversy in Traverse City. Before school that day, the students were discussing Special Land Use Permits (SLUP). I have never had students discussing SLUP agreements before school started before. The kids then went to the city commission meetings and actually spoke to the Commission and told them their thoughts on the tall building project and other issues. It was exciting to see kids giving adult civic leaders their opinions. Instead of just listening to adults, the kids were telling the adults what they think should happen in our community. Very exciting.”

He also states, “Students have indicated that they actually understand local government, and now feel empowered to make a difference in their community from now on. That is very exciting. I hope that they continue to do so. Some have expressed an interest in being involved in government in the future.”

To learn more about Mr. Ready’s program or to obtain a copy of his curriculum outline, he can be reached via email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or by phone at Traverse City West Senior High School 231-933-7532.

The Michigan State University Extension Government and Public Policy team offers training for elected and appointed officials for improved effectiveness in several areas, including various public policy issues and effects of government programs, regulation, incentives, strategies and more. By working together with local elected and appointed officials, and interested citizens, MSU Extension is able to provide education on critical local and state issues. The MSU Extension Government and Public Policy team also offers professional training in Parliamentary Procedure.  

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