When 14-year-old Zoe Belge of Lincoln decided to take part in a school project to learn more about town government, she had no idea it would take months to research and prepare for a request to buy a new bike rack.
But Belge, who is among a group of eighth-graders from the Lincoln School working with Town Clerk Susan Brooks and Town Moderator Sarah Cannon Holden, has realized it’s no easy task winding through the bureaucracy of town government.
At the same time, however, she discovered that anyone can make a difference, as long as they put in the effort.
“There are a lot of steps but anybody can do it,’’ Belge said. “It takes a little time, but not nearly as much time as I thought. I thought everything was complicated and challenging, but we jumped right in and it wasn’t as crazy as I thought.’’
While they aren’t old enough to vote themselves, Belge and five other students will be attending Town Meeting Saturday to present a warrant article they have spent months working on during and after school. The article asks residents to support spending about $800 to buy a new bike rack for the school, a move that would allow more students to ride to school, Belge said.
The students have been meeting about once a week in school during one of their open periods with Brooks and Cannon Holden to learn about town government and the Town Meeting process.
Brooks and Cannon Holden pitched the idea of working with the students earlier this year as a way to engage them in the process. To make the learning more hands on, Brooks and Cannon Holden decided to take the students through the citizen’s petition process and then have them present their request to voters.
‘It takes a little time, but not nearly as much time as I thought.’
Students had to survey their classmates for an idea to pursue, pick a topic, research it, collect the necessary signatures to get it on the warrant, and present it before the Recreation Department, Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee, and School Committee. They have developed a PowerPoint presentation, practiced their speeches, and will now take their case directly to voters.
“They have gone through all the steps,’’ Brooks said. “They’ve learned how to speak in public, and rely on one another. It’s been such fun.’’
Steve Cullen, the eighth-grade social studies teacher at the Lincoln School, said the project has tied in well with his government curriculum and the school’s community service requirement, in which eighth-graders must perform two community service projects before they graduate.
“They do a lot of community things, but we’ve never had our students involved in town government like this,’’ Cullen said. “For them to be involved in their community has been a real learning opportunity for them. I’m really excited for them to have gained so much from the experience.’’
Cullen said in addition to presenting at Town Meeting, the students will present their work to all students in fifth- through eighth-grade.
“Hopefully it will pique their interest and more students will do it next year,’’ Cullen said.
Twenty students initially signed up for the project, but just six followed through to the end.
Anna Shorb, 14, said some students didn’t realize how much work was going to be involved but she wanted to stick with it. She said it was interesting to learn about how government works and she found out how approachable town officials can be.
“They are very relaxed,’’ Shorb said. “I was in shock that we talked to the town selectmen. But we’re a small town and they were really nice and supportive.’’
For Belge, she liked the idea of making a difference.
“I thought it would be really cool to find something out about the town I wanted to change and actually change it,’’ Belge said. “It’s put a lot of things in context. Once you know the background it becomes so much more interesting. It’s cool to understand how everything is being done and is working.’’Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.