Deptford Township invited students from Monongahela Middle School and Deptford Township High School to take part in local government week at the township municipal building. The students were introduced to the inner workings of the government on a local scale and were taught a range of topics from what the clerk’s office does to how taxes fund the community.
Members of Deptford Township government, including Mayor Paul Medany, Thomas Newman Jr., township manager, Dina Zawadski, township clerk, and Councilman Bill Lamb were present to greet the eighth- and ninth-grade students and educate them about their local government.
Medany also discussed topics with the students to give them examples about how most of the officials in the room came to be in that room. He described most government as a “representative republic” rather than a democracy.
“You elect us, there’s seven of us up here, the council elects me as mayor if they so choose. We change mayors every two years if the council wants to do that,” said Medany.
He added, “The democracy part is all of you. All of you participating and you getting to have a say.”
The mayor told the students things like framing of a question are very important when in a council meeting and that there is a law in Deptford Township that says dogs can only bark for 15 minutes.
The students got to participate in a mock council meeting where they took on the role of council and got to debate issues and vote on resolutions. Adrian Rivera, a ninth-grader at Deptford High School, got to be Mayor Adrian Rivera of Deptford Township for the duration of the mock council meeting.
Rivera described his time temporarily filling in for the mayor.
“I like how first off there is a whole organization to it to make sure everything is done professionally. It was just fun overall,” Rivera said.
Zawadski was proud of the students’ willingness and enthusiasm to get involved. Some of the students took on the role of clerk, and Zawadski was there to show them the way.
“Actually showing them how it’s done and shadowing them, they are very enthused. A couple of the girls that were clerks, they picked it up pretty easily,” she said.
She was so impressed that Zawadski said she would love to see the township do this again with students.
“Believe it or not, we are very involved in our students’ activities and the community. We want them to learn, we want them to come in and see this is how you make changes, this is how you make a difference, or to see that this isn’t working and how can we help,” she said.
Peter Orio, a social studies teacher at Monongahela Middle School, was amazed at his students’ reception of what the township threw at them.
“The aspect of the students learning this is very important. They are citizens, and they have a civic duty to vote, it’s part of local government. I think it’s something that they are missing. They needed to see it, they need to see how local politicians affect that, and they need to see how local government affects that,” he said.
The students debated issues like if a four-day school week should be implemented, free college and healthy lunches. Both sets of students led valid arguments on both sides of each topic. Orio was surprised to see his students’ engagement and the topics in the process that they were learning about.
“I think it was a great experience for the kids to experience and see how local government works. They get a background on national government in the Constitution but they really don’t have background on local government, so this is the piece that was missing, and it worked out great,” he said.
The students also toured the municipal building and the adjoining Deptford Police Station. That is something Rivera really enjoyed.
“I like how everyone was really friendly. I also liked the police department, to see that they have everything prepared just in case something happens, especially the armory,” Rivera said.
In addition to the mock council and tour, the students practiced voting on a prototype ballot machine. The machine was provided by the board of elections and supervised by John Franchetti with the Gloucester County Board of Elections.
The machine is called ExpressVote XL, and it will enable you to actually see your vote before you officially cast it to verify the vote you selected.
“It’s technically not a voting machine in the traditional sense of casting your vote on the machine. The machine is actually making your ballot for you. It’s technically what is called a ballot marking device,” Franchetti explained.
These machines have been rolled out sparingly. They were used in the general election last year and in Logan Township for the school election in January. The machines will also be used in the upcoming primary in Woodbury Heights. The hope is to use them countywide in the November general election, but if that is not possible they should be fully rolled out for the primary next year. The Gloucester County Board of Elections wants to see the machines go through at least one major election before the 2020 presidential election.