The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Stafford students learn to govern
Stafford teens out past 11 p.m. could face a secondary offense because of their age if they’re caught getting into trouble.
But wait—before you get worked up about the new “ordinance” that was adopted in the county board chambers Tuesday, you should know who actually voted on it.
It wasn’t your seven elected officials.
Instead, high school seniors—17- and 18-year-olds—were trying their hand at running the county, taking control of the gavel and the budget.
Tuesday morning’s mock meeting included a public hearing on the teenage curfew, along with a closed session on tax incentives for attracting a new business to the county.
This is at least the 12th year that Stafford’s high school seniors have participated in Student Government Day, organized primarily by Tom Coen, who teaches Advanced Placement and college prep government classes at Colonial Forge High School.
“I always like to get something the students can get into,” said Coen, who has also been a board of supervisors candidate twice. Past debates have covered naming schools after political figures, and supporting roads and park projects.
More than 80 students from Stafford’s five high schools spent the morning in various departments, from economic development to utilities to fire and rescue.
They learned about the tasks that real employees are faced with, and how the government runs on a daily basis.
“I had no idea going in what to expect,” said Dominic Gierber, 18, who learned about tourism while in the economic development office.
That’s not part of the traditional high school government curriculum. Getting past the theoretical classroom lessons makes the topic more valuable and interesting for students, explained Coen, a fan of simulations as teaching tools.
Meanwhile, seven teens spent the shadowing portion of the day with Coen at the dais, learning how to be elected officials and how to run the twice-monthly meetings.
They practiced using the electronic voting system and elected a chairwoman—Victoria Giordano of North Stafford High School, who quickly picked up the gavel.
“It’s power,” Coen said.
They ran through the parliamentary process and then held an open-door mock closed session. Should the county encourage the fictitious MailEX to set up shop in Stafford by waiving fees and taxes?
“There’s a lot of us in this area that are competing for business,” Coen said, referencing the real plans for a baseball stadium to be located somewhere in the region.
The teens were full of questions: Will the business bring in enough money to outweigh the loss of tax revenue? Would the increased use of the airport (and an extended runway) cause problems for neighbors, or would it encourage other businesses to use the facility more? Would the company give hiring priority to Stafford residents?
Eventually, they voted to waive some taxes and fees, leaving it vague for county employees to negotiate the final offer.
Some years, the students will unknowingly act the part of their district supervisors. Brooke Point High School student Forrest Deal, representing Paul Milde’s Aquia District, passionately discussed the unfinished Aquia Town Center project.
“For the past couple years, we’ve had to look at a pile of dirt,” said Deal.
But the issue that isn’t likely to come before the real supervisors is the one that drew the most attention from the high schoolers.
“The more they participate, the more enjoyable it will be,” Coen had advised the mock board as they prepared for the open meeting on the teen curfew, which would mirror Prince William County’s with the goal to decrease vandalism and graffiti incidents.
The students got the memo, and more than a dozen lined up in the center of the board chambers to share their thoughts, mostly against the curfew.
“I was 17 once,” said Nolan Faherty, who turned 18 on Tuesday and said the proposal reminded him of the movie “Footloose.” “This will inhibit freedoms and cause teens to lash out, and they’ll go to proms in a different county.”
“It could be a slippery slope. We could have curfews for all ages,” said Qarahn Anbiya.
Added Jake Hooioos: “Is it really fair to compare localities? We’re not the same kind.” (Noted county treasurer Laura Rudy: “He’s going to be one of our future elected officials.”)
Giordano and her fellow board members also asked all sorts of questions of mock County Administrator Ella Wade of Colonial Forge High School. (She in turn replied that she’d have to ask staff, as Coen handed her the answers.)
And Giordano played the role of chair well, chastising the adults (and the real elected officials) for whispering in the back of the room.
Before heading across the street for a Chick–fil–A lunch and a wrapup of the day, the students voted to implement the same type of curfew as Prince William County, but as a secondary offense. The teens thought police officers shouldn’t be able to issue tickets just because of the offenders’ age, but only if they were doing something illegal already.
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975