The family of local government (cities and towns, counties, school districts and special districts) provides essential programs and services to residents all across Colorado that impact our everyday lives. They also serve as a model for students to learn effective citizenship.
Connecting young people with local leaders and local issues provides a focus on services and issues rather than personalities and politics. These characteristics make local government ripe for teaching effective citizenship skills. The list of local issues is sure to spark interest among students - parks and recreation, homelessness, recycling and sustainable practices, curfew laws, police relations, bike lanes, water quality, animal control, etc. Almost any aspect of daily life is touched by local government.
More than 120 municipal elections took place statewide recently, with voters making numerous important decisions. In addition to electing city council and town board members to represent them, voters decided on tax increases, broadband, marijuana, and more.
Teachers and parents should talk to young people about the importance of these elections and why it is essential to be engaged in the electoral process and know what is going on in their communities. A quick visit to any city or town website can reveal numerous opportunities for involvement, as well as the latest news or community event.
Find a way to “make government real” by having students interact with leaders, teaching them that these are real people who live down the street or are their best friend’s aunt. Often students are surprised to learn that many municipal leaders are volunteers or are minimally compensated – they are true public servants.
They also discover local government offers a vast array of career opportunities such as first responders, engineers who build and operate a city water system, teachers, librarians, attorneys, managers, museum curators, and so many others.
There are numerous examples of Colorado students spreading their citizenship wings and being empowered by their involvement with local government:
- Girl Scouts in Aurora recently orchestrated a new ordinance banning smoking in cars if someone under 18 is present. This effort was even featured on CBS News.
- Students in Boulder worked with municipal officials to create a safer, more attractive street corridor near their school.
- High school students in Longmont published letters to the editor calling for greater sustainable environmental practices.
- Elementary students in Denver researched and proposed a one-to-one technology program for their schools.
- Berthoud High students organized a suicide prevention program.
- High school students across the state monitor water quality and watershed health, and use the data to educate fellow citizens and inform decision-makers about the condition of Colorado’s water.
These students are practicing the civic mission of schools, and you cannot measure that with some standardized test.
Lessons on Local Government is a joint venture between CML and the Special Districts Association of Colorado to bring civics to life in the classroom. It is a small way to help our young people explore the world of local government and become informed and active citizens. If you have not been in a classroom lately to speak with students, please do so. This website and a related video can give you all sorts of tips. Be a resource to a local social studies/civics teacher in your own school district. Finally, sponsor a local government day in your town or city.
Let me know about any programs you have established locally. I would love to hear from you!