Students get lesson in civics

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 18, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS — It’s not every day a high school student gets to decide the fate of $100 million in funding.
Tenth-grade students at A.L. Brown High School had the chance to do that, plus ask candid questions of city and county leaders at Friday’s 4-H Citizenship Focus.
The event gave students firsthand experience with elected officials and how government works.
In Mandy Browning’s classroom, one of several model county commission sessions divided the class into groups to make budget cuts.
Kannapolis Finance Director Eric Davis moderated a discussion as students made their case for funding.
They had $121.5 million in requests.
The county only had $100 million in revenue.
Just like real county governments in North Carolina, deficit spending was not allowed.
And so students debated: Have fewer health inspectors in restaurants, or fewer people enforcing laws?
Cut money for education, or take funds from social services?
Omar Rodriguez addressed the five students chosen at random to play the roles of county commissioners.
He argued more money should be left for education than social services.
“If the kids who are in homeless shelters or foster care don’t get the education they need, there will be more problems,” he said.
In the end, education got another half-million dollars.
And the mock Board of Elections saw its budget slashed — despite a higher risk of election fraud.
“I learned about the different departments, and found that some are more important than others,” said Treasure Robinson, one of the members of the model county commission.
Rodriguez said he learned how important it is to be prepared and to make a good case for yourself.
“This makes government applicable to their lives,” Browning said.
Fellow civics teacher Meredith Bost said the program was important because she didn’t think students fully realized what local governments do.
“They see the federal government described in the media,” Bost said. “This helps bridge the gap.”
Across campus, four local officials took part in a panel discussion.
Students asked Sheriff Brad Riley about the problems of law enforcement and how he came to be the county’s top law enforcer.
Kannapolis City Manager Mike Legg fielded questions about how the city deals with budget cuts and challenges of a growing population.
Cabarrus County Commissioner Chris Measmer described the path that brought him to public service at the age of 23.
And Todd Adams of the Kannapolis Board of Education answered questions about practically everything, from school uniforms to whether or not year-round school was a good idea.
Students then broke into smaller groups for a more focused Q&A with other city officials.
“I hope they come away with a sense of responsibility, of what it takes to make a community work,” Adams said after the event.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.