“What did you do in school today?” is the age-old question that rarely elicits an enthusiastic reply, but after spending the day with the mayor on Monday I had plenty of stories to share. Mayor Weinberger spent the whole week (minus one snow day) at Burlington High School in an effort to learn more about and be more attentive to the daily workings of the school. The week also focused on the Partnership for Change, an initiative implemented at BHS and WHS (funded by the Nellie Mae Foundation) to reform education by tailoring it to students’ individual needs, interests, and goals. While a main objective was simply to bring attention to this initiative, the week became an opportunity to apply the Partnership’s many values.
I had been involved in planning the week for a while, and I was excited yet slightly apprehensive as to how the week might go. Luckily, everything started off on a good note with breakfast at the Sheraton. Fifteen of us students were invited to attend a Legislative Breakfast with business and state leaders from all over Vermont. We didn’t understand all the lingo but learned a lot about how the state is moving forward economically. We were eager to meet everyone, and the feeling was mutual, apparently; following the panel discussion, President Pro Tempore Campbell insisted in taking a couple pictures with us. Admittedly, we looked pretty sharp.
Following the (delicious) breakfast, we rushed back to BHS for the kick-off event. I had the honor of riding in the mayor’s car and witnessing the frenzied rush of simultaneously having to make it to the next event on time, practicing a speech, coordinating the press, and trying to catch a breath in between. Even upon our arrival at the high school, we didn’t get much of a break. In came the governor, and some classmates and I had the job of escorting him to the stage in approximately three minutes–much harder than it sounds.
The kick-off event was incredible. The auditorium was packed with a diverse group of students, parents, BHS staff, and other community members. Having been part of the planning process for the week, it was fulfilling to see the hours of hard work materialize into a stellar display of why we all have so much to be proud of in our city and school. The event proceeded smoothly, complete with a couple jokes from the governor and the story of the mayor’s road to success. We set the bar pretty high for any future welcome ceremonies.
The rest of the day proceeded in a similar fashion. I got to attend the mayor’s staff meeting and discover the pressures and rewards of working in such a high-stakes position. I helped escort the mayor through the lunch line (his lunch was more nutritious than that of any student in line) and we sat down with his Youth Advisory Council for an informal discussion about the mayor’s day so far and his hopes for the week.
Unfortunately, I had to run off to my biology class which by comparison seemed so calm and irrelevant after the bustle and excitement of the day. I may have gotten a couple complaints from teachers about me missing class, but I don’t regret a single moment of that day. It represented so much of what the Partnership for Change stands for: I, a student, was able to step into a leadership role by being part of the planning process and by making sure everything ran smoothly. I was able to participate in events and meetings that rarely see youth but that I felt welcomed in. I was able to learn so much about the policy-making and political topics I’m fascinated by, and in those couple hours I had an incredibly richer understanding of the world of government that I may one day enter. After months of being involved with the Partnership, I finally fully understood and lived the possibilities of our educational system. The mayor’s week was just the start of a permanent partnership, one in which all members of our community are involved and one in which the learning opportunities are endless.