MUSCATINE — Walking from Central Middle School on Monday, a group of about 100 sixth graders and their teachers journeyed downtown to learn about local government and community resources.
The downtown program was in conjunction with Junior Achievement's BizTown, where the students get to go to Davenport and participate in a hands-on city simulation. Kids take on the role of CEOs and mayors filing for business loans, writing checks, and participating in local government.
While the other half of the class was in Davenport, the remaining students got to take a ride on the MuscaBus, learn about the work being done at the Muscatine Center for Social Action and Musser Public Library, see what resources the Muscatine Police Department offer and the were even able to handle money at a bank.
"They had real money out that they were handling," said Stacy Beatty, who has taught for 14 years in Muscatine. "Hundred dollar bills and $50 bills. They get hold it and do activities with it."
Beatty said that this kind of early civic exposure is important for expanding students' worlds.
"I think it is great that we are involving our kids in the local community so early," Beatty said. "A lot of times they get to high school and they've never visited city hall. Or they don't know what the (Muscatine) Center for Social Action has to offer."
At their stop at City Hall, they were met by Mayor Diana Broderson. She led them upstairs to the council chambers, where she talked to them about her job and the accountability of public officials.
"It's so important to me for them to know that the citizens are who this town belongs to," Broderson said. "They're the boss. They're the owners. We work for you. I think so often, that gets lost with employees or elected officials that we are the servants of the people. I think it's important for kids to know that and recognize their responsibility to one day vote."
With so much of Muscatine's government offices housed downtown, these students, within a few short blocks are able to go from the seat of government to the police department to bank without much effort. Students get to see some of the ways that these private and public stakeholders interact with one another.
"For example, We have families that have taken advantage of the homeless offerings here and the financial assistance for families, but these kids may not know where it comes from," Beatty said. "It's a really great opportunity for our kids to see where their parents' tax money is going and all of the services our community is able to provide because of that."
Monday's group had an election this year. Along with voting on calling themselves the Justice League, they also elected Izaiah Lopez to represent their city as Mayor. Lopez said that he thinks it's really important to involve he and his peers in government simulations like this.
"I want to see us run a good city," Lopez said. "Every vote counts and they voted for me. That means I've got to do a good job. We all have to do a good job."
Beatty said that this event communicates to the students what is possible within their town.
"From the nonprofit standpoint and the public goods and services standpoint, they get a better view of what we do as a community and how we're all connected with everything between taxes and services and employment and the things available in Muscatine," Beatty said. "On a bigger level, they realize that we live in a free enterprise system where they can open their own businesses and sell what ever they want to. As a consumer they can buy whatever they want to and not all countries allow that opportunity so I think it's a great big picture program that they are able to learn that stuff, too."