Through civics class, Warde students learn town government
FAIRFIELD — Maybe it’s because of last year’s fractious presidential election or perhaps it’s the uncertainty regarding the state’s budget and school aid.
It’s unclear to Fairfield Warde High School civics teacher Charles Flynn exactly why, but his class of juniors and seniors this year is more engaged, more interested, in the inner workings of local government than students in past years.
“This particular class was more excited,” said Flynn, who has taught at the school for 20 years.
Each year, for the past six of seven years, Flynn has worked with his classes on a project designed to help them better understand the way local government functions.
“After teaching civics for a while I realized that students didn’t know how their own town worked. Fairfield has the fairly unusual, New England-style of governing,” the high school teacher said.
In the early years of the project, Flynn began reaching out to various elected officials in town requesting that they present to his students on their various governmental roles. First Selectman Mike Tetreau, whose father was an educator at Warde, and members of the Representative Town Meeting and Planning and Zoning spoke to his class this year.
Students were encouraged to observe the processes of local government outside of the classroom.
“I think it is important for all kids to understand and appreciate their local government, and the cooperation of the local officials in bringing their ‘real-world’ knowledge to the kids both here at Warde, as well as talking to them at these official meetings, has been tremendous,” Flynn said. “This year, more than any other year, they got out to meetings.”
For some students, like Daniel McAleese, a 17-year-old whose father, Christopher, is on the Planning and Zoning Commission, going in person to meetings offered a unique perspective.
“Talking to my dad about these things, it sometimes goes in one ear and out the other,” the senior said. “But being there gave me a better understanding.”
Policymakers, too, were appreciative of the project. Board of Education member Jennifer Maxon Kennelly said she was pleasantly surprised when two of Flynn’s students showed up at a Board of Education meeting with questions and input.
“I just really appreciate a project that gets our students to get a ‘real-world’ taste of how local politics operates,” Maxon Kennelly said.
As a final project, students were asked to develop a faux political campaign, composing a platform, writing a speech and creating brochures based on those shown to them by the officials who visited the class.
McAleese and his classmate, Erik Almanza, also 17, chose to campaign for first selectman — a position that is not up for election this November. McAleese said he chose that because the first selectman has the greatest influence across the board and throughout the town.
Almanza was more concise.
“It was a power thing for me,” the high school senior said.
Another senior, Andrew Werner, 17, was wary of the responsibility that comes with the town’s top spot and instead chose to campaign for the RTM.
The campaign projects were presented earlier this month, but in some students, the project instilled a lasting interest in local government.
“It was such a fantastic experience to get to know how the local government works firsthand,” Werner said. “I think this sparked something.”