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  Workshop 6: Civic Engagement  
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Workshop 6

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Teacher Perspectives: The mayor on service learning

Editor’s Note: Bjorn Skogquist graduated from Anoka High School less than six years ago. Today, at the age of 23, he is Anoka’s mayor. In his junior and senior years, he participated in major service learning projects, which inspired him to run for office.

His high school experience
Bjorn Skogquist: When I was a junior, I presented a project about prairie restoration. When I was a senior, I presented a project about restoring an amphitheater that’s about two blocks from City Hall. I was encouraged by the City Council to form a nonprofit organization [to] save and renovate the theater and get tax-exempt status, and I’ve done that. That’s been one of the things that has shaped who I am. The presentations taught me how to approach the City Council, how to be in front of a group of officials. It’s a very different thing from other presentations, and it taught me the preparedness and the knowledge that you need to have in order to be a candidate. I think it has shown me, as it has shown the students tonight, what the government perspective on the world is, and how you gather information and present to a government entity versus your teacher or your parents, for example.

Running for mayor
Bjorn Skogquist: That City Council [made a decision] in regard to a development project that I didn’t particularly agree with. They went through the motions, but they didn’t really get public input. I felt that was particularly wrong. I had a couple other issues, but that was the plank of my platform. I ran and won in 2000.

City Council presentation
Bjorn Skogquist: I was part of the process about five years ago. I believe in it. I think that it’s something valuable [that] gives students a sense of ownership of their community. Not too many people would conceive of an idea, work through the potential problems and benefits, and then actually find somebody that can do something about it. I think it’s encouraging both to the community and the students to tell the City Council [their ideas]--somebody that might actually implement your idea for you, and make the community a better place.

Assessment
Bjorn Skogquist: I think the final part of any project or presentation is feedback. The students have presented to us, not just to speak at us, but to hear our comments in return. I think it’s very important for the students to take their project and gauge it to a real-world response. It’s a non-threatening way for them to hear what [our] responses are to some of their proposals and ideas, so they know what the government is all about.

They did an excellent job. The students who worked on the North Star Commuter Rail project have it right on. They’ve assessed the situation correctly, and it seems like they know what they’re talking about. I have sympathy for them for picking an issue that seems immovable, but sometimes it’s fun to watch high school kids take seemingly impossible projects and really try to come up with solutions.

Importance to citizenship
Bjorn Skogquist: We’ve gotten away from civics in education. I think school districts, just like other entities, have been separated from the city. [In the old days, schools] were overseen by churches and people in the community. Everything is compartmentalized these days. Students don’t necessarily have an opportunity to be involved and I think it’s very important to give them that in their education. Otherwise, they walk through the adolescent years not knowing what civics is or why it’s important or why they need to be involved. I think these presentations give those students a chance to see there is a need for their opinion, there is a need for their helping hand, there is a need for their ideas because people that are in government, that are in places to make decisions, don’t necessarily have the same ideas that they do. Even by presenting, they can help form a better opinion in the leaders’ minds.


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