Levy Court hosts Youth in Government Day


Tom Welch reads the story of Alexander Hamilton during Youth in Government at Kent County Levy Court on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Getting up on Thursday morning, the young men and women participating in the Delaware American Legions Boy’s and Girl’s State program probably weren’t expecting to be arguing the merits of rezoning a parcel in Kent County to accommodate a pizza shop/cafe with free-roaming cats available for adoption. But, Youth in Government Day, hosted at Kent County Levy Court, is all about breaking expectations.

“By the end of the day, we hope that the students are leaving with a different outlook on local government,” said American Legion Auxiliary director Lisa McCarley. “Everyone comes in with their preconceived notions of how government works and their own ideas about it, but after going through these demonstrations, they can see that it’s very complicated and there is a lot to learn about the value of compromise.”

The 48 students that toured the Levy Court building in Dover were all juniors sent in from the majority of high schools in the county. The pizza shop/cat cafe was only one of the several “mock” Levy Court meetings they participated in.

County staff took several real petitions brought before the county in the past, changing the names and addresses involved, and let the students hash out the decisions. Alternating groups got to experience the mock meeting in the roles of the seven elected Levy Court commissioners while being coached by a handful of the actual commissioners and staff members. Students also had the opportunity to roleplay the discussion from the perspective of parties supporting or opposed to the petition and vote on a verdict.

Eric Glass of Dover High School and Stephanie Cabrera-Ruiz of Milford High School participated in a “mock” wedding presided over by Clerk of the Peace Brenda Wootten during Kent County Levy Court’s Youth in Government Day.
(Submitted/Kelly Pitts)

“We provide the students with an opportunity to experience county government first-hand in various roles as commissioners, staff and concerned citizens,” said County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange. “The scenarios we present for participation, debate and decision-making are based on real world situations. Since Kent County is so rich in early American history, we always incorporate an informative historic component as well as tours of some of our contemporary facilities and technologies we use every day. We are always impressed at how well prepared and engaged these young people are in current events and local government issues. They are the leaders of tomorrow and proof that the future appears to be very bright and in good hands.”

Fourth district commissioner Eric Buckson feels the event helps give students a more profound understanding of the democratic process.

“It’s an opportunity to connect with young folks who clearly are motivated to make an impact; if government and public service is a part of that, I’m happy to share some thoughts and experience with them,” he said. “I think they leave here with a better understanding of how their local government actually works, and hopefully a better understanding of the fact that they’re the ones in control of their own destinies.”

During the visit, students also had the opportunity to hear some history on Alexander Hamilton as told by state historical interpreter Tom Welch, tour the county’s emergency management call center and public safety building and partake in a mock wedding with the county’s Clerk of the Peace Brenda Wootten.

Although the Kent County Youth in Government Day program usually has a smaller enrollment than New Castle and Sussex counties (because the smaller number of schools), county officials said this was one of the largest groups they’ve hosted to date. Lyman Brenner, who’s been director of the Boy’s State program since 2004 was happy to report that the gains appear to be coming from more young women taking an interest.

“We’ve been running this size group of boys pretty consistently now for a number of years, but it’s nice to see that more girls are participating this year,” he said. “This program is important because it’s an attempt to teach both young men and ladies how the different branches of government work, and how that ultimately affects their lives and the lives of their family members.”

Mr. Brenner and Ms. McCarley note that the students are in great company when it comes previous Boy’s and Girl’s State participants. Locally, they note that former attorney general Beau Biden and Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long both participated when they were younger. On a national scale (the American Legion’s program is represented in all states), the program can also claim former presidents John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and many other politicians and public servants as alumni of the program.

“We’ve been running continuously in Delaware for 70-some years, and it’s nice to see the new generation still have the same, if not a greater, level of interest in getting involved in their communities,” said Ms. McCarley. “The kids literally are our future, so it’s our job to give them the stepping stones they need to come back and help out.”

Ultimately, the mock commissioners decided by a 6-1 vote to not allow the rezoning of the county parcel to allow for a pizza shop/cat cafe due to strong public opposition and public health concerns.

To learn more about the Boy’s and Girl’s State programs, visit the American Legion’s website at delegion.org/.

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