A group of local students is learning about government one meeting at a time.
Over the course of the last month, village and school clerks have seen an up tick in attendance as seniors atWhitehallHigh Schoolhave begun frequenting the monthly meetings of local municipalities and the school board.
Last month a few dozen students attended the Board of Education’s monthly meeting and the following evening, several more students attended a village board meeting.
Their attendance is a requirement of social studies teacher Justin Culligan’s Government class and contributes to their final grade.
But the program is about more than just a grade-the meetings constitute only fifteen percent of their final grades so it’s conceivable that students could blow off the assignment and still pass the course.
Culligan said the ultimate goal is to encourage students to become more active and involved within the community.
“When I was in school they never made us do it so I never had interest because I wasn’t introduced to it,” Culligan said. “I wanted the kids to be aware of what’s going on. There’s such a negative connotation with politics, no one grows up saying they want to become President. Hopefully it makes them more involved and active. Maybe they’ll see it’s not broken.”
Although the requirement to attend meetings isn’t anything new to seniors atWhitehall, Culligan has taken it up a notch.
It used to be students had to attend one meeting each semester, now they have to attend at least one meeting each month.
Students are permitted to attend any legitimate government meeting, whether it’s inWhitehallor elsewhere. Some students have attended meetings inDresden,Hampton,Vermontand even Queensbury.
Students don’t have to participate in any discussions, they are simply asked to observe, describe three topics that were discussed at the meeting and have a government representative sign a sheet verifying they attended.
When Culligan began asking students to attend the meeting three years ago, he was initially met with some resistance and disapproval from students who felt they had enough school-related work to complete. But during the intervening years, opinions have changed and students have grown accustomed to the assignment.
“It’s gotten so where some of the kids actually enjoy it,” he said.
For many of the students the requirement has served a social function, allowing them to get together and enjoy chicken wings before or after the meetings. But more importantly they have begun to understand how meetings work and the proper decorum of those in attendance.
It’s also served as a catalyst for further discussions in class. Unlike many Regents courses, there is no standard curriculum in the Government class so many of the topics that are discussed revolve around current events and issues students raise from the meetings they attend.
For instance, during last year’s preliminary budget meetings, many students had questions about where the schools got their money from and it led to a lengthy discussion about taxes.
“It naturally leads into the next topic. For us it’s very free flowing,” Culligan said, adding that it transitions nicely into the Economics course the students take during the second half of the year. “It gives us ideas to discuss and helps them with questions that might arise.”