Aurora Elementary Students Take Over Council
The implementation of photo radar. Sour gas well setbacks. Turning over a campground to the province of Alberta. These were some of the issues considered in Brazeau County Council Chamber February 22nd.
But not by Brazeau County elected officials.
Rather, 55 Grade 6 students from two classes (Tammie Stafford and Amanda Gathercole) at Aurora Elementary School tackled the issues in Chamber. The meeting structure was as an exact replica of regular County Council meetings, as part of the students’ instruction on municipal governments and democracy.
The students elected a mayor and six Councillors, who received delegations, passed and defeated motions, and heard from the public as part of the Aurora County Council meeting. The remainder of the students served as observers and members of the public, many with well-thought out questions for their elected peers. Brazeau County staff, as well as RCMP Staff Sergeant Malcolm Callihoo and Fire Chief Tom Thomson, presented reports and recommendations to the council, while Councillor Marc Gressler acted as Chief Administrative Officer.
Teacher Tammie Stafford says the council exercise will help teach the students they can make a difference.
“I do not think that they will necessarily all run for government, but they know that they can - the opportunity is open to them,” she says. “They also have a responsibility to be informed about decisions their government is making, and to let government officials know concerns which are communicated in a clear respectful way.
“Government is for and by the people. Their voice is important.”
The idea for the Aurora County Council came about in a conversation between Gressler and Stafford last year, and together they planned the February event. In addition, Gressler has been teaching students about municipal government and democracy in the classroom.
They reviewed the difference between Federal, Provincial, and Municipal politics and the responsibility areas. Then drilled down into municipal politics, about elections and structure of councils.
“Then we announced that they were going to elect a council for Aurora County, three Councillors from each class, and a Mayor from the whole,” Gressler says. “They responded really well, and we had six students that ran for Mayor, and five or six students from each class that ran for the three Councillor positions. They actively campaigned with “vote for …” posters plastered all over the school. You could feel the buzz around the school when election day came round.”
During the meeting, the Aurora Council heard not only from staff, but most importantly, from their Grade 6 peers. Some were for a proposed sour gas well, some against; same for photo radar. And during the public input session, students urged the council to provide more recreation opportunities, whether they be rinks or a skateboard park. They also addressed a question from the media on how best to work with the Town of Drayton Valley.
Both Gressler and Stafford were pleased with the experience.
“The kids were super engaged. You learn more by doing than hearing or reading about it,” Stafford says.
“The more educated and enthusiastic our citizens are about issues, the more accountable we make our government and the better it is for all of us.
“Hopefully, this project will encourage more people to take up the responsibility of making up our government in the future. The more people who show an interest in governing, the better!”
Gressler says it was important for the students to have a realistic but accessible experience, and the council meeting provided that.
“I think it went really well,” he says. “I would like to consider how to expand it, and have some ideas for hopefully future years. The more opportunities we can give to youth to learn through realistic events the more likely they are to grasp those concepts and have a positive educational experience that will help them become better citizens of Canada, and in this case support the democratic system that we are so fortunate to live under and the freedoms we experience because of it.”