Ballston Spa High School seniors are required to complete a semester long course titled participation in government. Successful completion of the course is needed to graduate, but the twist is that the requirements are a little different than the rest of the courses Ballston Spa students typically take.
`This is an introduction to town government,` said Dan Hornick, a government teacher at the high school. `Students must attend town meetings and complete a community service project.`
Hornick works closely with Andrew Menzies, another government teacher, to coordinate the course, which encourages discussing and debating real-world issues and current events. Students in the class can often be seen at local town and school board meetings and at least seven hours must be devoted to a community service project.
`We are trying to expose students to being involved in their community,` said Hornick.
Recently, when Hornick and Menzies sent out a request to local governments, civic groups, and area emergency services seeking internship opportunities for the students as a means to earn credit for the course, Malta Historian, Teri Ulrich, jumped at the opportunity and provided a detailed list of projects students could work on through her office.
`I was very impressed with the teachers’ letter and their understanding of how important internships are to seniors who are contemplating civic, governmental or public service educations or careers,` said Ulrich. `Having been a government major in college as well as a state certified high school social studies teacher myself, I was excited about the chance to create opportunities for students to work in my historian’s office.`
Three students were placed with Ulrich for their internships.
Malta resident Lorie Grucella, and her friend Emily Sweeney teamed up to write one-page historic summaries of the landmark homes in the town. Edgina Desourmeau, using research already completed by Ulrich, wrote a report on the history of the Underground Railroad stops in Malta.
`I was curious about learning about my hometown and the places that I’ve seen,` said Grucella about her choice of projects. `We didn’t know exactly what we were getting into. We actually used real files and talked to real people.`
`It is really important that just as much as we learn about the history of our country and our state, we should be learning about our town history too,` said Sweeney.
When the girls first came to Ulrich, in mid-October, she shared her vision for the projects and taught them how to access the research and files that make up the historian’s office. Important to both Ulrich and the girls was the need for the projects to have real value.
`I had not simply concocted things for them to do as busy work. These were actual objectives and goals that I had for myself as historian,` said Ulrich.
`We got to do something that really had an impact on the town,` said Sweeney, who noted that Ulrich is already using their work.
`Just being able to write unwritten history; that speaks for itself,` Desourmeau said.
All three students opted to stay on through May even after their mandatory seven hours were complete to see their projects through.
`I didn’t think I’d get involved as much,` said Grucella. `I really enjoyed doing it. It’s not anything I’ll ever forget.`
`I do not know if it changed my future plans as far as a career, but the government class has made me more aware and more willing to go to town meetings,` said Sweeney. `I just realized how important it is to get involved with the town and how you can change things by voicing your opinion.` Hornick suggested that Sweeney’s realization is one of the main goals of the course.
`We want to show students that regardless of what your field is, there are ways to help your community,` said Hornick. `The way a community works together is by everyone being involved.`
The participation in government class is one that Desourmeau said all students and many adults would be better for taking. Noting that the classroom discussion often mirrored the nightly news and offered students a chance to review issues, engage in discussions, and debate the merits of various events.
`The class really helped shape who we really are as political beings,` she said. `Everyone should be going to the class at least once a week. If it was available for a full year, I’d have probably signed up.` “