Nurturing Tomorrow’s Leaders

Thomas O'Neill III, Peoria County Board

With summer fast approaching, a sense of anticipation and excitement fill the air: vacations are being planned, pools filled, sunscreen stocked, fireworks bought. High school students have a different agenda for their summer months, however: gaining valuable work experience and saving for college may trump laying poolside and running bases this year. With the shift in priorities comes maturity, responsibility and the potential for leadership.

Leadership sets the individual apart from the masses. Employers and college recruiters seek applicants who demonstrate an ability to lead. Who is more likely to be chosen: the 18-year-old member of the student body, or the one who was on the student council? Peoria County believes leadership to be so invaluable that we offer a free civic leadership course to all students attending high school in the county, including fall freshmen and spring graduates.

Students participating in the Civic Leadership Program will gain a greater understanding of local government by experiencing firsthand the role Peoria County has in our community. Taught by elected and appointed leaders, the program offers students behind-the-scenes access to county government. Students taking the course will experience diversity, build new friendships, share opinions and lead.

During the two-day course, students learn about county services by participating in a mock criminal jury trial and a zoning appeal hearing. They will run for office and vote in a mock election; resolve a disaster scenario with local first-responders; have lunch with the sheriff; tour the county jail, crime lab and highway department; and visit Bel-Wood Nursing Home, reading stories, painting fingernails, playing Bingo or just spending time with the residents.

Participants will work together on a political campaign and a virtual road improvement project. They will retrieve a copy of their birth certificate, pay a traffic citation, collect a receipt for property taxes, get fingerprinted, determine their home’s assessed value, file a deed and report to jury duty. They will play “Recycling Jeopardy” and observe a K-9 demonstration.

The Civic Leadership Program is a unique learning opportunity in that each participant will have the benefit of experiencing local government from a dual perspective: as citizen and as public servant. Your son may apply for a marriage license in the morning and run for re-election in the afternoon; your daughter may petition for a dog kennel one day and design a bridge the next. This comprehensive approach increases understanding of county services and the complexities of local government. Greater understanding is the backbone of a good leader.

Before your high school student utters—yet again—the phrase, “there’s nothing to do,” encourage him or her to apply for the summer Civic Leadership Program. Voluntary participation in a government education program during the summer months will distinguish your child’s college applications from the masses. The summer course is June 22nd and 23rd; application deadline is June 4th. For eligibility, times and location, or to download an application, visit www.peoriacounty.org/communications/civic or call 672-6918. iBi

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