Students learn about government

BY JILL KASSANDER

SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Do you know who your representative is for your local government? Do you know how often your city council meets? How about your school board? If you are a sixth-grade student who is participating in the local government CECH UP (Citizenship Education Clearing House) program you have the answers to those questions and a whole lot more. The program was developed by University of Missouri-St. Louis in cooperation with the St. Louis Area City Managers Association to educate students about their local governments. Marvin Beckerman was the director of CECH and helped create the innovative program.

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“Creve Coeur was an early pioneer with CECH UP,” Beckerman said. “The late Kathy Mansfield, who had been an administrator for the city, helped jump start the program.”

CECH UP works with middle schools and their local governments in Missouri to provide students with an opportunity to get a close up look at the workings of city government. The program looks at local government officials in appointed and elected positions. The students develop and implement action plans as part of their lessons. All participating schools present their action plans at a project fair in the spring. More than 300 students are involved in the fair which include case studies and a mock city council meeting.

“We are very excited about the growth of the program,” Beckerman said. “The program is considered to be a national model. It has been presented at state and national conferences.”

This is the first year eighth-grade students at Solomon Schechter Day School have participated in CECH UP. They recently went on a field trip as part of the program. The day started with a visit to the recycling center in St. Peters. Fifth- through eighth-grade SSDS science teacher Rick Schmidt has focused the students’ research on recycling and recycling programs. The eighth-grade students have been divided into three groups each with a different task: make a presentation to the Creve Coeur City Council, create plans for the school’s recycling program and prepare a presentation for other schools in Creve Coeur about recycling.

“Recycling — choosing to do it and where does it go — all these decisions impact the community,” Schmidt said. “Who is making those decisions and who is participating? It all comes down a level of involvement.”

Several members of the Creve Coeur city staff met with the students when they arrived at the Creve Coeur Government Center. Jaysen Christensen, assistant to the city administrator, gave the students information about the city council and their meetings and a tour of the city council chambers. After an enthusiastic tour of the police department the students met with planning director Paul Langdon, director of public works Robert Gunn and director of finance Dan Smith. They discussed their job responsibilities and how they affect and interact with the community.

“This visit has really been the highlight for me,” student Ben Berson said. “I didn’t know much about local government and I learned a lot.”

The questions the students asked following the presentations showed they are already learning to be more involved in local government issues.

Josh Aroesty asked about future plans for public recreational areas for Creve Coeur and where would the money come from to support them besides taxes. Langdon told him there are no significant expansions planned though a new grant was awarded to Millennium Park to increase their facilities. Christensen acknowledged the city had looked at building a recreation center but it is currently cost prohibitive. Also, he acknowledged the residents of Creve Coeur have other recreational facilities to choose from close by including the Jewish Community Center.

“This program does a great job bringing an awareness to students of what happens in city hall,” SSDS middle team coordinator Susan Low said. “It is so important because most of the time students have minimal contact with their city government.”

Low was also very pleased with the program preparation for staff and teachers. There was a full day of training and the opportunity to hear from teachers who already use the program. They developed mock-up lessons and the CECH UP staff planned the field trip and made the connections for them.

“This is a very good project,” student Wendy Low said. “It opened my eyes on why it is so good to recycle. It teaches you a lot about your community.”

For more information on the CECH UP program and how to bring it to your school contact Karen Pippin at 314-516-6853 or e-mail her at: [email protected] or visit their website at: www.umsl.edu/cech-up.