Raising the next generation is crucial for every job field, and investing in the leadership of tomorrow is especially important to the City of Valparaiso. This is why the City of Valparaiso has hosted its annual Student Government Day in conjunction with Valparaiso High School (VHS) and Porter County Government.
Student Government Day is a tradition in Valparaiso dating back to the ‘60s that current city leaders are proud to continue.
At this year’s event, students from Valparaiso High School met at City Hall for an official welcome and kickoff before parting ways with the leaders of several city government entities. Students learned what it is like to work for the city through visits to the police department, the parks department, and the fire department to name a few.
While shadowing their designated leaders, students were able to join police for a ride-along experience, wear firefighter uniforms and break down doors, explore city development construction sites, and more.
Senior VHS student Connor McCall served as the student mayor for the day and shadowed Valparaiso Mayor Matt Murphy. McCall and Murphy joined forces with Development Director George Douglas and his student, Zachary Brown, to visit a handful of significant redevelopment projects in the city such as the future Journeyman Distillery and downtown parking garage.
“We talked about how that city has developed over the years to what it is now, and how it’s going to continue to bring in more residents and tourists to the downtown area in the future,” McCall said. “I was interested in this opportunity because I thought it would be cool to see how the city I live in functions and how it makes decisions.”
After shadowing county leaders, the students returned to City Hall for a mock trial, taking on the roles of different city council members as well as attending citizens. During the mock trial, the student council members discussed a variety of real, current city projects and student citizens approached the council with questions and concerns.
Over the course of the mock trial, students lead discussions on puppy mills, the development of a new hotel, and street rehabilitation and restoration. Murphy shared that the Student Government Day organizers wanted to choose a combination of potentially controversial issues and significant development projects to give students a real feel for how the city council works.
“We tried to pick a controversial topic for the kids to experience debating in a civil, collegial way,” Murphy said. “The students did really great; they were engaged and polite. I think Mayor McCall ran a good meeting, and the council members asked good questions.”
Through shadowing the mayor and acting as mayor during the mock trial, the biggest takeaway for McCall was his new grasp of all the details and planning behind city development.
“I was interested in the budget and how much thought goes into designing the interior and the exterior of the new buildings. The whole process for a lot of these developments takes months and years to finish. It was interesting to see a different side of it through the eyes of one of the city leaders,” McCall said.
City Councilman Harry Peterson first participated in Student Government Day when he was working from the prosecutor’s office back in 2019 and, aside from an off-year due to COVID-19 in 2020, has participated in the event every following year. He was able to advise students during the mock trial to help them learn from the experience.
“I like to answer questions and explain some of these concepts about different levels of government: the city, the township level, and the county,” Peterson said. “You have to think about how decisions will affect people in the city and the city itself in the long term and the short term.”
VHS Government Teacher Kara Wissing served as the liaison between VHS and the city to help coordinate Student Government Day and has done so for 12 years. Over those 12 years, Wissing has seen over and over again how the event can impact students.
“This is definitely something for them to experience firsthand and see how the local government can affect their daily lives,” Wissing said. “Over the years that I have done this, I’ve had students make connections with people come back for college internships, and major in things like local government or international relations.”
To learn more about the City of Valparaiso, visit ci.valparaiso.in.us.