Feb. 18, 2009: Student project has valuable lessons

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To The Editor:
I teach the Participation in Government course at Margaretville Central School. Last semester a class of high school seniors began a new curriculum: Planning and Local Government in the Watershed.
The curriculum was developed by The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development with funding from the Catskill Watershed Corporation. Students have gained firsthand experience on how local government works and how each of them can play important roles in the process. Several local government officials made this project successful.
The students completed the same exercises that were recently conducted for the update of the Town of Middletown Comprehensive Plan. Students ranked community assets and liabilities and presented their visions for the future in final projects. On behalf of the students, I present a summary of their valuable contributions to the community, with the hopes that this partnership between the school and the community can continue.
“Margaretville, nestled in the beautiful mountains of the Catskills, is a wonderful place to live,” says Tiffany Knapp and Casey Hubbell; however, “there are not many places where teens can get a job or be entertained. A movie theater or arcade would be of great benefit to the area.” Arielle Arguez, Joshua Smith, and Lucas Labumbard proposed solutions “to supply teenagers with jobs to they can stay out of trouble, save money for college and get the experience of maintaining a job.”
This group would like to work with community leaders and business people “to open a business where teenagers would have the first opportunity for jobs.” Similarly, Stephanie Skala and Antonio Ramos suggest “a temporary job where kids can learn as an apprentice or intern,” recognizing that students “would not only have to have a voice in local government but an apprentice program would require participation from the local community.” Ashley Baker and Nicole Rotella would also like to see the introduction of “an intern/apprenticeship program for high school students, with local businesses or organizations.”
Students could be chosen for internships based on their performance in school. Larry Manon and Mike Ballard reflected on how the state’s cuts to Belleayre Mountain have impacted job opportunities for youth, but they also understand the need for developing a diversity of local businesses. They noted, “many teenagers must travel to their jobs, but the cost of gas could equal the amount they get paid.”
Students also focused on the importance of maintaining a positive community appearance. “Margaretville has a lot of assets such as scenic beauty, clean air, and tons of recreational opportunities” wrote Holly Thomas and Autumn Hanley. Yet they warned, “if these assets are taken for granted, they could become liabilities.”
As an example, they cited the Riverwalk as a community asset but, due to under-maintenance, they felt it’s not fully appreciated by residents and visitors. Another liability was the lack of cell phone service, which can impact the safety of residents. “I have a cell phone and I get service in just a few places,” notes Afton Updyke. Along with the limitations of high-speed, affordable Internet access, the students felt these liabilities could eventually be turned into assets by people working together throughout the community.
We are now in our second semester and are considering how some of the students’ suggestions could be implemented in partnership with the community.

Bill Lonecke,
MCS Social Studies Teacher