Three elected officials helped bring a civics lesson to life for Tunkhannock Area fourth graders on Friday.
Rep. Karen Boback (R-Harveys Lake), Wyoming County Commissioner Judy Mead and Tunkhannock Area School Board member Holly Arnold participated in a panel discussion, “Government in Action.”
“Essentially, the question for this unit has been ‘How does government influence the way we live?’” said teacher Anne DeMarco.
Through stories of fiction and nonfiction, students have been tackling this question in different ways.
One story addressed how governments solve problems such as natural disasters and economic crises, while another focused on a fictional town that helps an influx of refugees who arrive with limited resources.
Students also learned about the federal government’s role in creating national parks, as well as a state attorney general who helped take over a detention camp in need of reform in Texas.
“I wanted to have a culminating event to help the kids connect to how government influences their lives in particular, so as a fourth grader, a 9- or 10-year-old in Tunkhannock Area schools in Wyoming County, and in the state of Pennsylvania,” DeMarco said. “It gives them a personal connection to those two levels of government that are closer to home for them.”
Before answering questions from students, each official took time to explain their job.
Boback told students that she’s a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in Harrisburg, representing Wyoming County and portions of nearby counties. In 2006, voters who “believed in her” elected her into the legislative position.
Mead explained that Pennsylvania is broken down into 67 counties, and for 20 years, she has been one of three elected officials who oversee multiple facets of Wyoming County. This includes operations in the county courthouse, as well as the county jail, 911 center and more.
Serving on the school board with eight other elected officials, Arnold said her responsibilities are to make plans for the district, formulate policies and ensure the district is in compliance with state and federal laws.
One student asked Arnold about her background before joining the school board.
Unlike other elected positions, Arnold told students that serving on a school board is not a paid or full-time position. Her regular job is at Aqua Pennsylvania, where she monitors water quality.
Each board member has a unique background, making it a well-rounded team, she added.
“Everyone works together to bring their strengths and experiences to the board to make decisions,” she said.
Speaking of issues in Pennsylvania, Boback gave an example of a bill she wrote that, if passed, would impact students like them. Some schools have older lead pipes, putting students at risk of ingesting lead, she said.
If the bill becomes law, schools would be required to monitor their water for lead every two years.
“No child should have to drink from a fountain if there’s lead in the pipes,” she said.
Boback was also asked about the toughest part of her job, responding that trying to make all constituents happy remains a challenge for elected officials.
It could also be difficult for Boback when she is unable to help people because of circumstances out of her control, but satisfying when she knows she made a positive difference.
Another fourth grader had a question for Mead about how the county prepares for emergencies such as tornadoes.
Mead explained that Wyoming County is a “storm ready county” and has plans in place with different groups such as the county Emergency Management Agency.
Mead also reflected on when Wyoming County experienced flooding in 2009 and 2011. The county government helped secure shelter for displaced residents and also worked closely with the state and federal governments for relief.
“That’s one way all the governments work together,” Mead said.
Superintendent Heather McPherson was pleased to see the fourth graders engaged and asking the panelists thoughtful questions.
“It’s interesting for me to see what they’re curious about. I really appreciate that these folks are giving up their time to do this,” she said. “This is just an example of some really great things that we do here.”
Students learn about government through the school district’s reading series, she said, with the curriculum and expectations differing by grade level.
“I know there are concerns that we’re not doing enough about civics, that we’re not educating kids about how our government works, and that’s not true,” McPherson said. “We are doing that, and this is a great example.”