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West Genesee government students learn beyond the classroom

Matthew Ehalt is a journalism student at Syracuse University, who chose the Camillus Town Board as his reporting beat.

At nearly every Camillus town board meeting, a West Genesee High School student sits in the crowd quietly, taking notes on the proceedings. Armed with a white piece of paper and a pen, the student listens keenly to the board members as they deliberate on the town's issues. The town board meeting has become this student's classroom for a course called Participation in Government.

Attending town board meetings, participating in community service, writing letters to local politicians--it's all part of the curriculum for West Genesee's unique civics course. The half-year class has been successful in its goal to get students involved in government on a local level this past decade to those associated with the program.

"We try to get them to be knowledgeable about what is going on around them and the decisions the government has to make and to be familiar with all the governments: local, city, state and federal," said Bob Elmer, who teaches the class. "We have them do a lot of different things to try to get them knowledgeable about things going on at all the different levels."

Every high school in New York is required by the New York State Education Department to teach a Participation in Government class. According to the Grade 12 Core Curriculum posted on its Web site, nysed.gov, "Fundamental to Participation in Government is a course of study that has students defining, analyzing, monitoring and discussing issues and policies. The course reflects: an issue-based approach to public policy, the tools and skills needed in real-world learning experiences and the knowledge needed for effective citizenship."

The class at West Genesee previously was about criminal justice before being changed to Participation in Government in accord with new state requirements about 10 years ago, Elmer said. He said the changes were made because state officially worried about the declining number of people voting in elections.

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