Although they’re too young to even vote, a group of Maumelle High School freshmen have been immersed in the political game this fall through a FAME Academy class on politics.
To make the exercise as realistic as possible, teacher Lori Lachowsky divided the students into teams of five students and they were all given the same assignment: develop a campaign for a 2014 reelection race by Maumelle Mayor Mike Watson, who would be seeking his third four-year term.
Last Friday, Nov. 22 the class made their formal presentations to Watson along with other class members, parents and friends who came out to visit.
Watson was definitely impressed. He said he was pleased to see that the students took the project seriously and put their best foot forward for the community.
Most of the teams did research; many taking unscientific polling at places like Kroger’s and other places the public gather. Although it varied from team to team, most residents complained about the Maumelle Boulevard traffic when asked for issues and about the water quality in the city — two longstanding public issues that have been debated time and again.
Suggestions for improving living conditions included seeking that third entrance to Maumelle which Watson has made a priority since his first day in office, including numerous trips to Washington, D.C. to visit with members of Congress to solicit support, meeting with staff and commissioners of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.
Watson said years ago the project was a good idea that ran afoul of the trend in Washington to eschew direct funding of local initiatives through special legislation. Instead, projects can no longer be funded in that old special interest fashion and must fend for themselves against all other projects at the agency level.
But funding was obtained for environmental and other research projects that have been completed or are underway.
Some of the campaign team’s suggestions just wouldn’t work. For example, one group suggested widening Maumelle Boulevard from a four-lane two-way highway to a six-lane highway with three lanes in each direction through special funding projects.
Watson told the students that Maumelle Boulevard is a state highway, designated Arkansas Highway 100 and that the state controls its use, expansion and operation. He also noted that the majority of the highway they suggested from Maumelle to I-430 is located within North Little Rock and while it would certainly benefit Maumelle residents, he said the city couldn’t legally spend any dollars to upgrade a road located in another city.
He did tell them it was a good idea though and perhaps the cities and state could work together towards that end.
Other suggestions to improve the quality of life in the city that students heard from survey respondents included more sidewalks, sit down restaurants, more family restaurants and parks especially made for dogs.
Another key suggestion was maintaining Maumelle’s current size but growing its retail base, more and better parks, allow no more apartments to be built here, more trees, keep the small town feel and maintain public safety. More family restaurants were another suggestion.
Many of the teams actually prepared advertisements, buttons and other campaign promotional material.
Some of the more interesting promotional suggestions were themed campaigns like:
"Vote for Mike. He does what’s right."
Another said, "More than a Mayor. Mike Watson."
"Vote for the fresh Mayor. Mayor Mike Watson, of Maumelle."
Another, "He’ll work. He’ll run. He’s #1."
The presentations were held in the high school’s seminar room that was constructed for such displays of student achievement and public use. Many of the team member parents attended the presentation as well.
Lachowsky said, "
The FAME freshman academy government and civics classes are doing project-based learning. Each class broke into teams of five where they became a Campaign Management Firm. Their job was to research how to run an effective campaign. Each had a specific role. The kids even went into Maumelle surveying at Kroger and other places to determine Maumelle public opinion. They came together and devised a campaign strategy in hopes the Mayor of Maumelle would ‘hire’ them."
Most of the students said they were excited to be a part of democracy in action, even if it were just for a class and they’re still a few years away from casting their first real ballot.