By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
RIVERVIEW – Sampling city government by job-shadowing officials and conducting a simulated city council meeting helps high school students understand the challenges facing local elected officials and how tax dollars are spent.
Government teacher Michon Lince hopes students participating in the annual event, held May 11 this year, take the importance of civic engagement to heart and become productive citizens when they leave high school, whether they go to college or enter the workforce after graduating high school.
Lince said it is important for students to see the world outside of their high school bubble.
Prior to sitting through a simulated city council meeting, she doubted students realized that the money the city spends on services is connected to what residents and local businesses pay in taxes.
Lince said the experience also helps students realize how many people are needed to run the city.
“It takes all these people working together to make a city, and kids this age have no idea what city planners do, or even what their own school officials do to make the school environment a good one,” Lince said.
Junior Alex Pickell, who served as mayor, said he didn't expect to have to talk so much during the mock city council meeting.
“Once I got into it, it got a lot easier,” he said. “I was thankful that we had all of our (student) council members there asking a lot of questions.”
He said it was a fun experience, and he might consider running for a city office some day.
“It's a lot of work to be up here, but it is a very fun experience,” he said.
Junior Megan Cecchetti, who served as a councilwoman for the day, said it was a good opportunity to learn how the city government works, especially how items are proposed and voted upon. She was surprised by the extent of the city's government, and would like to serve on a city council someday.
After this government learning experience, she said she would consider approaching the school board about better lighting and drainage for the high school field where the marching band practices.
“Our field is grass, and when it rains, it floods,” Cecchetti said. “I am in the marching band, so that affects me. At night sometimes we can't always go into the stadium, so we need lights, and we don't have those. So we have to cut our practices short.”
She said past school board inquiries have indicated that money is not available for improvements that would benefit the marching band's field, but she now has a better idea how the process works.
Sophomore Easton Borso learned about the role of the community development director by shadowing Dave Scurto.
Borso said he was surprised by the impact city employees and officials have on the city's operations, and he found he likes city development work.
“You're forming the future of the city,” he said.
Borso liked learning from Scurto, whom he said does a lot for Riverview that goes unrecognized.
Borso said while some students did not want to participate in the students in government day because of the work involved, or because they thought it would be boring, he felt it was worthwhile.
“It's actually really fun if you know what you are doing and you get into it,” Borso said. “You just have to imagine that it's your city and your problems.”
Sophomore Elena Tyler, who served as a councilwoman for the day, said it was a great experience.
“It's good to know what goes on in your city, and how much hard work and effort is needed to put in to have such a great outcome,” she said. “Living in the city, I only see the outcome of it, so to know how much work and effort goes into it is good to experience.”
She said getting along with others with differing perspectives is probably the hardest thing council members have to do, as well as considering the pros and cons of each proposal brought before them.
“I was a little nervous at first, and I think that's a reason why a lot of kids didn't do it,” she said. “But I think it was great. Everyone was a little nervous. I had a lot of fun with it, and now I can go and watch the council meetings and understand it a little bit better.”
Riverview Community Schools Supt. Russell Pickell hopes students left knowing what it is like to represent constituents: the difficult decisions that must be made, and the importance of getting the information and data needed to make informed decisions.
Pickell said people have high expectations for government services, but are less likely to be able to pay for them.
“I think we all need to remember that city services come at a cost,” Pickell said. “They come as (a result of) our taxes, and if we want higher services, those things come out of taxes, like our safety, like our school facilities.
“Those are things that we have to maintain, and we have to be ready to pay for those. I think that is a fantastic lesson for them to learn.”
Pickell said he gives a lot of credit to the government class teachers.
“It's one thing to watch a DVD, and it's another thing to sit through and experience, to feel the lights on, to see people in an audience, to know the sacrifice and difficulty it is,” Pickell said, “when you go into those positions, and how much research you have to do to appropriately represent your people.”
Pickell credits the city employees and officials for the learning opportunity they provide for the students.
He said the practice is long-standing, and the two government teachers, Lince and Ryan DeBrano, are alumni of Riverview schools, and are committed to continuing the students in government day.
Lince said she asked Mayor Andrew Swift if he would considering doing two student in government days a year.
“Right now we are on a trimester schedule, so there are two sets of kids that never even get the opportunity to come here,” Lince said. “But I know it is taxing for the city people.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at email@example.com.)