Dunwoody students connect to city

Dunwoody High students dine with Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch (right in blue) and the city council as part of a school club that connects students with local government.

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Dunwoody High students dine with Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch (right in blue) and the city council as part of a school club that connects students with local government.

Dunwoody High student Phoebe Hickey went into the government and politics class last fall thinking it would be just another AP course. Instead, she finished her junior year with a deeper understanding of those entities and similar ones that make decisions in her hometown.

“The more I learned, the more interested I became,” said the rising senior. “Then I heard about this council that was a way to learn about our city and to reach out to the mayor and other officials.”

Hickey signed up for the Youth City Council, or what teacher Mike Berry calls “the local government club.” About six years ago, he launched the early-morning meetings to move classroom lessons into the real world after the idea was suggested by then Dunwoody council member Pam Tallmadge.

“I thought it was a great idea to get students more knowledgeable about what local government does and how it affects their lives, and to get them more engaged in the community,” said Berry. “Our curriculum is focused on national government and politics and doesn’t address local government, so the club is a way to connect with that.”

That was what Tallmadge, who has since moved to Woodstock, had in mind. When the Dunwoody High alum’s three sons went to the same school, she realized they didn’t understand local government.

“They knew the president of the United States but didn’t realize what Dunwoody’s city council or county commissioners did,” she said. “At the same time, young minds are smart and come up with fantastic ideas. They did some cool PowerPoints on what they’d like to see as the city develops, things like parks, safe walkways and bike paths to schools.”

The club is open to all students and usually draws about 15 active members who attend monthly meetings where the guest speaker might be the mayor or head of a city department. A few months ago, they met with the council for dinner.

“It’s a direct connection to people who operate in our backyard,” said Berry. “Every time we have a speaker, students come away with something they didn’t know. They’re young and have no reason to know about things like zoning, but this contact makes them more aware of the people making those decisions and may inspire them one day to get involved wherever they live.”

Hickey found the presentations by the police and Council Member John Heneghan particularly informative.

“The police showed us laws I didn’t know about, like how many signs you can have on your lawn,” she said. “Mr. Heneghan showed us Dunwoody’s boundaries, and that was really interesting. I’d never really thought about the different areas and demographics of our town.”

Heneghan said he sees the club as a chance to inspire the next generation. “I take for granted that someday there will be a future city council person who learned about our government through this group,” he said.

That’s a distinct possibility, said Berry.

“A lot of these students come with an interest in going into law or politics,” he said. “It could happen!”

Information about Dunwoody High School is online at dunwoodyhs.dekalb.k12.ga.us.

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SEND US YOUR STORIES. Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.