Inner-city youth get early taste of local government.
Story by Cindy Conover Dashnaw
How do you explain local government to fifth-graders?
If you’re the Biscayne Bay Kiwanis Club in Florida, you create the Civic Intern Program that puts them right inside City Hall.
One day a month, the CIP brings seven Frederick Douglass Elementary students to work in the offices of Miami’s mayor, city commissioners and city manager. The young people are nominated by teachers and administrators at their inner-city school not solely because of grades, but also for their interests and behavior, says Mark Scheinbaum, Kiwanis club board member and CIP coordinator.
He admits the club “took a chance” when it launched CIP in August 2017.
“Some in City Hall thought the kids were too young,” Scheinbaum says, “but sadly, by the adolescent years, many of the forces that challenge success are already in place. We wanted to do something before they went to middle school.”
Scheinbaum emphasizes the CIP is not a field trip. After a morning orientation and an assignment given by a commissioner, the students are off to do tasks for their “boss” and attend commission meetings.
“By the end of the year, they will have participated in enough diverse activities to know what government is like,” Scheinbaum says.
They learned a few things quickly. When the group was discussing community relations, for example, one of the children piped up to explain the concept: “Listen, my mom complains that the dog next door keeps everybody up. She calls the police. They tell the neighbors to put up their dog, but it’s out barking again the next night. My mom calls the commissioner, the police threaten to take the dog away, and the dog gets put up.”
Without CIP, these children might have waited a long time to be exposed to city government and treated with respect by its officials. Some of them don’t have a phone number or an emergency contact. Some live with relatives or in cars. But their demeanor and the care they take in dressing for CIP shows Scheinbaum that the students appreciate where they are.
“We won’t know the outcome of this experiment for many years. But I suspect we’re giving these kids an experience they will never forget.”
This story originally appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of Kiwanis magazine.