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New Hampshire students are having an impact on local decision-making, and they're not waiting until their 18th birthdays to do it

When the chair of the local school board’s budget committee was removed for not following Robert’s Rules of Order, students at Monadnock Community Connections School (MC2) in Surry, New Hampshire, seized the opportunity to educate themselves and others about how decisions are made at the community level, with the goal of making the democratic process more transparent, understandable, and accessible.

MC2 is a small public high school where students learn by doing and through involvement in the community, and where the core concepts of Public Achievement are integrated into the curriculum. Although the school has many supporters, a few vocal members of the community are pushing to close it because they believe eliminating the school will result in lower property taxes.

One of MC2's opponents was the budget committee member who lost his chairmanship for not observing Robert’s Rules, which the school's students also use to make their meetings run smoothly and fairly. Rather than simply consider the chair’s removal a kind of victory, the students decided to find out more.

One student was already involved in a senior project analyzing the role of public access media on the democratic process. He and others stepped up to lead the group’s research and efforts to create greater public awareness about what is proper in conducting public meetings. Because they would be interacting with over two dozen other invested community members, the young people decided to develop a team mission statement to ensure clear communication. Their mission is “to provide unedited information and resources to inspire the public to take action.?

Physics teacher Elizabeth Cardine recognized the opportunity for students to learn through authentic public work, and is advising the core team of six students. They are doing some of their work as part of the school day, but are also committing significant time outside of classes, including attending late night budget committee and school board meetings. They are committed to gathering as much multimedia coverage of pertinent meetings and minutes as possible to help change the path of a school district that has not made adequate yearly progress (AYP) under federal No Child Left Behind laws.

David Guion says the work he and other students are doing is important, if unusual since they are not yet voting age. “It is important because you can’t just wait until someone is old enough to thrust a mantle of responsibility onto their shoulders. It’s also important because we have a vested interest in how this turns out—we want our school [to continue]. We’re also learning about the process at the local level and that there are many different ways to be involved.?

When the former budget committee chair filed a civil lawsuit alleging that he was improperly removed from his seat, the core group worked together with a local lawyer to review the case. They also video recorded the court hearing and will make it available for public viewing.

In addition, the students are planning a community meeting about the school board’s decision, which they will facilitate, and they’re working on a brochure with simplified Robert’s Rules that will be a resource to community groups for an upcoming deliberative session.

They’re also organizing a get-out-the-vote effort with local high school students before a special election in March. That’s when voters will cast ballots on candidates for school board and committee seats, and on the district budget.

And the former committee chair who was ousted for not following parliamentary procedure? He was reinstated as chair, but will be up for reelection in March. Students at MC2 will help voters make an informed decision about who fills that seat.

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The link for the MC2 Public Achievement team's web site is www.mc2pa.org.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs