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updated: 6/28/2012 2:59 PM

Maine West government course immerses students in local government

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  • Maine West government student Erin Conoboy questions Des Plaines administrators during a news conference being televised live Thursday on the city cable channel. At left is Mayor Marty Moylan, and seated next to him is City Clerk Gloria Ludwig.

       Maine West government student Erin Conoboy questions Des Plaines administrators during a news conference being televised live Thursday on the city cable channel. At left is Mayor Marty Moylan, and seated next to him is City Clerk Gloria Ludwig.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Jessica Vasquez, right, and Brenda Gomez, seated next to her, wait their turn as Maine West High School students ask questions of Des Plaines administrators during a news conference being televised live on the city cable channel.

       Jessica Vasquez, right, and Brenda Gomez, seated next to her, wait their turn as Maine West High School students ask questions of Des Plaines administrators during a news conference being televised live on the city cable channel.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Des Plaines Mayor Martin Moylan answers a question posed by Maine West student Kyle Morishita during a news conference being televised live Thursday on the city cable channel.

       Des Plaines Mayor Martin Moylan answers a question posed by Maine West student Kyle Morishita during a news conference being televised live Thursday on the city cable channel.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Des Plaines Village Manager Mike Bartholomew, left, seated next to acting Police Chief Mike Kozak, answers a question posed by a Maine West High School student as part of a government class at Des Plaines City Hall Thursday.

       Des Plaines Village Manager Mike Bartholomew, left, seated next to acting Police Chief Mike Kozak, answers a question posed by a Maine West High School student as part of a government class at Des Plaines City Hall Thursday.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Maine West High School student Georgia Petersen takes the podium while participating in a government class where the students ask questions of Des Plaines administrators during a news conference being televised live on the city cable channel.

       Maine West High School student Georgia Petersen takes the podium while participating in a government class where the students ask questions of Des Plaines administrators during a news conference being televised live on the city cable channel.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 
By David Conway
dconway@dailyherald.com

Des Plaines city officials fielded a barrage of questions Thursday morning from a relentless, inquisitive group: the students of the Maine West High School clinical government program.

The news conference marked the end of a three-week program offered by the school that dates back to 1975. In the clinical government program, students are not only traditionally instructed but also given the opportunity to hear from a guest speaker and go on a field trip every day. The two-hour trips included ride-alongs with police officers, visits to the public works department and time at the Frisbie Senior Center.

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Owen Doak, who has taught the course since 2005, said the program is effective in firing up youth who were previously unaware of the role government played in their lives. By surrounding them with tangible examples of the things government does, he said, it helps them apply their book learning of the functions of government to the real world.

"They come in knowing almost nothing, and they come out saying 'Wow, this is all government?'" Doak said. "It's most obvious at the local level -- we went to the courthouse, and they could see the judges enforcing the Bill of Rights on a daily basis."

During the question-and-answer session, the 16 students asked officials about topics ranging from future downtown developments to the decriminalization of marijuana. They often asked the officials to explain the biggest obstacle their department faces, listening intently as they were informed of the minutia of municipal governance.

After all the questions had been asked, Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan invited the students to talk about the effect the course had on them.

"Many of your jobs -- I didn't know they were actually jobs in Des Plaines," Jessica Vasquez said. "I just thought it was the mayor, the fire department, the police department. I learned that each one of your jobs really did help the community get to where it is today."

"We're all seniors, so we're going to go through a big transition soon," Kyle Morishita said. "One of those things is actually having to join the workforce, and we're expected to vote. In terms of politics and stuff, it's actually kind of complicated to learn individually. I felt this class was a pretty good introduction into what government is all about."

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