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.
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."