Local Government and Politics, News

Lynn teens get an inside look at how government works

Sydney Denham, left, listens to Bridgett Sanchez give her views on issues such as school dress codes and arming teachers. (Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — Some of the city’s future leaders were exposed to the inner workings of city government on Tuesday.  

As part of the city’s annual Student Government Day at City Hall, high school students participated in interactive mock City Council and School Committee meetings, with some even assuming the roles of council or committee members.

“I think it’s really exciting to see seniors from all the high schools in the city come together, choose to be a part of the Student Government Day and get an opportunity to see what it means to be involved in government and how connected it is to our community,” said Mayor Thomas M. McGee. “I’ve come to these over the years and seen the young people come through as high school students and then become leaders in our community going forward.”

Participating schools included Lynn Classical High School, Lynn English High School, Lynn Vocational Technical Institute, St. Mary’s High School, KIPP Academy and Fecteau-Leary Junior/Senior High School.

McGee said the event’s format was changed this year to make it more interactive. In past years, students would shadow different department heads or city employees, but this year was more about getting them engaged.

Following the mock meetings, there was a question and answer session with students and department heads, where the teens learned more about the business of running a city.

“This is a lot of fun,” said Superintendent Dr. Catherine C. Latham. “(One day) one of you will be standing up here taking my place or one of the elected officials’ place.”

The participants were split into two groups, which alternated between attending a council or school committee meeting. Students attending the school committee meeting discussed school safety.

One of the topics broached was how students feel about having K9s come into the schools, sniffing and searching lockers for drugs or weapons. They were asked whether they thought it was intrusive or a nice safety measure.

Tora Ueland, a Lynn English High School student, who took on the role of a school committee member, said she likes having the dogs come in because it’s a more efficient way to make sure the school is safe. She said she feels more comfortable when there are dogs.

On the other hand, Jonathan Mejia, who also took on the role of a school committee member, said officials need to be careful about the militarization of the city’s schools. He said school is typically a safe place for him. At home, he said, as a person of color, he’s afraid of walking down the street every day, thinking that a police officer might shoot him.

Mejia, a KIPP Academy student, said the idea of adding police officers and K9 units in his school scares him. Instead of adding more police officers or dogs, he suggested adding more counselors or people who could help curb potential problems.

The opposing opinions between the two mock school committee members is typical of a regular Lynn School Committee meeting, according to Lorraine Gately, who along with fellow committee members, McGee, who serves as chairman, and Michael Satterwhite provided a brief explanation to students on the role the board serves in city government.

“We don’t always agree, but we do get our jobs done,” said Gately.

Students serving as school committee members also got to take a vote on school safety. The vote was on whether to allow students to use cell phones during lockdowns or secure and hold.

One student talked about how students should be able to use cell phones to contact parents if there is an intruder in the school.

A Lynn Tech student said there was a shelter in place recently for an emergency situation outside the school, but since students didn’t know what was going on, it incited panic. The student said if kids were able to use their phones, they could have stayed connected and would have been able to find out what was going on.

Students were asked to take into consideration that a school shooter could be alerted to where kids were hiding if a cell phone happened to ring.

When the time to vote came in the first session, one of the student committee members had a hard time making up her mind.

McGee said the vote was a good learning experience, as it gave students a sense of what goes into making decisions that affect the schools and city. He said most issues that boards and committees have to vote on aren’t black and white — there’s typically a gray area.

“How do we make those decisions that are right for the community when it’s not clear what the appropriate decision might be?” McGee said. “But you have to, in the end, make a decision one way or another.”

At the City Council mock meetings, school safety was also discussed, which focused on whether to arm teachers or put metal detectors in schools. The other topic of discussion was where recreational marijuana facilities would go in the city, according to the mayor’s office.

“(I hope you) really enjoy the experience that is given to you today and take it into the future and in any way, if it’s an elected official, or being a community activist, whatever your role in giving back to the city will be in the future, make this be the jumping off point for you,” said City Councilor Brian LaPierre in his opening remarks.

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