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Board games

Area students learn that 'all government is local'

Avery Baetzel works with Mike Boyle, environmental health director at the Grundy County Health Department, during a mock county board meeting Tuesday morning for Government Day.
Avery Baetzel works with Mike Boyle, environmental health director at the Grundy County Health Department, during a mock county board meeting Tuesday morning for Government Day.

Area students voted down a measure to bring a diamond mine, and potentially $2.5 million in annual revenue, to Grundy County during a special meeting Tuesday at the Grundy County Administration Building.

"The diamond mine would not be a significant benefit due to the problems it would cause," said Catherine Leturno, a home-schooled 8th grader who shared her opinion on the resolution at the forefront of a mock board meeting.

The meeting was part of the Grundy County's University of Illinois Extension's annual Government Day.

For many of the students, John Davis, youth development educator for the Extension, said the day was likely their first visit to the administration building. He said the purpose of the day is to build a stronger understanding of how local government works.

"We're trying to teach the importance of local government in our society," Davis said. "So many decisions that affect them on a day-to-day basis happen in this room — not in Washington, D.C. or Springfield. We always say all government is local."

To participate in the day, Davis said students submitted essays for specific jobs in areas like the coroner's office or the sheriff's office.

Before the meeting, Davis gave students the task of thoroughly examining the issue before coming to a conclusion.

"You are, today, the elected officials, and you're the county employees," he said.

He gave examples of how government committees each focus on different questions surrounding the issue — like how the highway committee would ask questions about the impact of traffic or how the environmental committee would be interested in the impact of a diamond mine on area soil and groundwater. 

Before the mock meeting, students broke out into sessions with their specific committees or areas of local government.

Mazon-Verona-Kinsman Middle School seventh-grader Tony Bernhard and Braceville Elementary School eighth-grader Sydney Bartels met with County Administrator Shawn Hamilton and learned the ins and outs of his job.

Bernhard said he applied for the position because he was interested in learning more about what the county administrator does.

"I thought it would be an interesting job to see how the administrator works with all the committees," he said.

Bartels said she could see herself doing the job one day.

"I like gathering information, and gathering information for the committees sounds like it's a good job and important to the public," she said.

Students concluded their mock meeting with a 16-2 vote against the diamond mine.

Beyond learning about the issue at hand, Leturno said she learned more about the role that committees play in the decision-making process.

"Government is a little more complex than I thought it was," she said.

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