Democracy in the cradle: Baker students get up close and personal look at city government

Published 10:42 am Friday, September 15, 2023

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Some local middle school students saw the wheels of local government turn in-person this week.

Fifth-grade students from Baker Intermediate School participated in the City Government Academy for the first time on Wednesday and Thursday.

On both days, five groups of students rotated through sessions at the Winchester City Hall, the fire and police departments, the industrial development authority and the chamber of commerce.

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Winchester Mayor JoEllen Reed greeted the groups of students during their city hall visit and explained the academy’s purpose with the Sun beforehand.

“So, we’ve invited the fifth grade from Baker Intermediate School in today. Over the next two days, there will be a total of over 350 plus students in and out of downtown,” Reed said.

The mayor, a former elementary school teacher, was eager to pull the curtains back and give a first-hand civics lesson.

“I’m really excited about our kids being involved in this and seeing the functions of government,” Reed said. “So many kids today don’t know the difference between a courthouse and city hall because they never had any occasion to do that. The goal is that hopefully, one day, some of these young people come back and work in city government.”

And give a lesson she did.

During the city hall sessions, Reed gave a brief talk on how Winchester’s municipal government worked and then led a mock city commission meeting of student volunteers, during which a local ice cream day was proclaimed and local teachers were honored, among other business.

Baker social studies teacher Brittany Feck’s students will learn about civics in the spring, so she was glad they were able to get a head start on Wednesday.

“For them to have this opportunity to learn how the city works before we actually teach it to them is fantastic,” Feck said. “It is super important for them to get this exposure because a lot of the time they don’t.”

Civics often falls by the wayside in education, and that is something that Feck lamented.

“It is crazy to think that sometimes kids don’t know where they are on a map. They don’t know what a city is or a county is,” she said. “I think it is important for them to learn where they are and learn what their surroundings are because otherwise they won’t know.”

The experience was eye-opening for Baker principal Josh Mounts, who admitted he learned a few new things.

For Mounts, some students’ dearth of civics knowledge presented a good opportunity.

“Anytime you can expose kids to things that they do not know, it has benefits,” he said. “One of our goals as a school system is to produce knowledgeable and educated citizens. We want our students to know about their government and how it operates.