Metro Council To Teach Teachers

November 7, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Members of the Grand Valley Metro Council are itching to teach teachers how to teach kids about government.

"The curriculum is written and online," said Rockford City Manager Michael Young. "So how do you get teachers to use it?"

Good question.

Young and GVMC Executive Director Don Stypula felt the best way to accomplish that was to contact the intermediate school districts within the planning agency's boundary. The council has targeted 100 districts and Young said the agency had 40 of those on board. He added that private and parochial schools were being included.

Metro Council members are concerned that many high school and elementary students have little knowledge of how government works and the data supports their fear. Young pointed out that the latest results from the MEAP test showed that only 27 percent had a serviceable understanding of social studies, while the same students scored more than 60 percent in math and science.

So far, a three-unit course on government has been created for high school juniors. In it public policy issues are discussed and students then engage each other in conversation about the issue. Then they determine a course of action to take, report on their results, and then evaluate their conclusions.

Students can also go online to evaluate a bill being considered by the state House. Right now, House Bill 4600 would limit first-year drivers to having only one passenger, other than an immediate family member, with them when they are behind the wheel.

The idea behind the bill is to limit traffic accidents and fatalities that plague young drivers, who are inexperienced and more likely to be distracted than older drivers. Students are asked to give their opinions on the legislation to their representatives.

State Rep. Doug Hart, a Rockford Republican who chairs The Civics Institute, told the Novi News that the institute's goal is to build good citizens.

"Over the next decade, The Civics Institute will literally make hundreds of thousands of Michigan's young people more competent and engaged citizens," he said.

Kent County Chairman and GVMC member David Morren challenged those that sit on the agency's board to get their schools to become involved with the program. Doing so, he added, may return some honor to their profession.

Young said that Rockford High School students would make a promotional video about the Local Government Curriculum, a component of the Michigan Civic Institute in-service teacher training, and have it distributed to the school districts.

Young said it took eight years to write the curriculum and that work on one for fifth-graders would get started this summer.

But teachers aren't the only educational target the Metro Council has, as taxpayers and the media are in those sights, too. Council members are hoping to hold a media event next Monday to explain what a cut to revenue sharing would mean to residents.

With Gov. Jennifer Granholm and state lawmakers expected to begin chopping $900 million from the current budget next month, a recent poll of residents statewide favored cutting revenue sharing to municipalities above most other listed budget items.

Stypula said those who responded to the survey likely didn't understand that revenue sharing pays for police, fire, trash pickup, street cleaning, and other services that residents expect to be available on a daily basis. He added that a loss in revenue sharing, which can account for close to half of some units' budgets, could result in a local tax increases.

At Business Journal press time, a location for the press conference hadn't been selected, although the atrium in the new DeVos Place was suggested. The event, however, is set for noon on Nov. 17.

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