Engage the kids in local government

By: 
Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

few weeks ago something happened that I never thought I would see. My 10-year-old became actively engaged in a Weston County School District No. 1 board of trustees meeting. Not once in my nearly eight years at the paper has she been interested enough to sit with Mom while I cover a board meeting from home. As I watched her hang on everything the trustees and superintendent said as they discussed whether sixth graders at Newcastle Middle School would be allowed to participate in all school sports, it got me thinking. 

Why aren’t our children engaged and paying attention to the individuals that make the decisions that affect their everyday lives? 

I don’t ever recall being taught about local government in school. State government, yes. Federal government, of course. City government, not that I remember. County government, I don’t think so. 

As someone who has become submerged in city, county, state and even federal governments, how they work and the decisions they make every day, I think that all of us have the opportunity to bridge that gap in a very productive way. 

Through my tenure at the paper, I have seen everyday citizens accomplish so many things at the local level. In my opinion, this is the place where the public has the ability to make a difference on a regular basis. 

Before I started at the paper, I had no clue that there were boards and government-type entities that ran everything from the local hospital to the community library. 

I am so glad that I have a career that has allowed me to teach my children how our community works in ways that they never would have understood without my newspaper knowledge. I have had the ability to introduce my kids to board meetings, elected officials and the process by which decisions that affect them are made. 

While I am very aware that not every parent has the knowledge that I do about how our local government works, I would like to encourage not only the parents but the teachers, administrators and caregivers to cross this bridge. 

Take the opportunity to teach our children how these decisions are made, especially when the decisions are something that they have a stake in. There is no better opportunity than an election year to dive in and become aware of what your local government is up to, and there is no better way to do so than actively reading your local newspapers. 

Living in a small town in Wyoming, we have the ability to be engaged on various levels with our local elected officials and those chosen to make the tough decisions. We see them in our grocery stores, we use their businesses, and we know their friends and families. 

Now we must take our access to those individuals one step further by teaching our children that they have the ability to not only make a difference but also to at least be aware of what is happening in our community. 

If that 15 minutes of pure engagement on the part of Breeklee has taught me anything, it’s that the next time any board is discussing an issue that might interest my children, I am going to make an effort to discuss that with them. I am going to go out of my way to let them listen and engage if need be. 

Our kids are our future and if they aren’t interested and aware of how our local government and various entities work, we could be in trouble. 

The time to create civic-minded adults begins now. 

Parents, be aware of what is happening in your community, the decisions being made and how those might affect you and your children. Make it a point to talk to them and give them the tools they will need to be active members of our community. 

Teachers, please talk to the students. You have the ability to bring these lessons into the classroom in ways the parents could never dream of, and you have the tools to do so. 

The News Letter Journal is more than willing to provide additional newspapers to classrooms whose teachers want to make their students aware of what local boards are doing. We have also made our NEWC Now newsletter available to all teachers; it is emailed every Monday, and this online avenue provides you an easy way to see some of the most important stories from Newcastle, Weston County and Wyoming, with links to our website.

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