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Starring:
Karen Ryder


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"In the beginning, I used to contact local government leaders and explain the course," Karen Ryder said of Public Affairs 101. "Now, the government leaders actually contact me with problems they would like the class to work on. It seems there's an abundance of problems in the local community to keep us quite busy. After you receive a reputation for quality work, local leaders understand what they will be getting for free, and without political bias or hidden agenda, you can become quite popular!"

Ryder, an adjunct instructor for Syracuse University, teaches economics and government courses at Schalmont High School in Schenectady, New York. Upper-level seniors receive credit for the college courses she instructs, and one of those is Public Affairs 101. The course is "learning by immersion," and Ryder took an immediate liking to the style and content of the class.

"We start with researching the demographics of the local community and provide a report for the municipality," explained Ryder. "From there, we take a societal problem and research it. Then we provide policy alternatives. The class also can create and analyze surveys and submit reports, create press releases, Web pages, make presentations, or create products like informational brochures, PowerPoint presentations, and billboards."

The Public Affairs students have worked for both non-profit organizations and local municipalities. Ryder even has been contacted by state organizations that have seen the work of her class. The current group of students is working for the Schenectady county manager to determine if Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) would be the best approach for the communication system in a new building.

"We had to learn about communication systems, and we surveyed the county employees who would be involved in the move and completed a survey report," Ryder reported. "We then used the information we researched and the survey results to submit policy options to the county manager, IT director, and legislative chairwomen."

Students enjoy the fact that the work in Public Affairs 101 is real and not based on a "hypothetical scenario." Ryder says that the students always surpass even her high expectations and never cease to amaze her or themselves with what they can achieve.

"This course takes a lot of time and effort, great communication skills, and flexibility," she observed. "The projects are different every year, so there are no set lesson plans to follow. You just have to go with it."

Seeing the benefit of their learning in a "real world" setting is a wonderful experience for the students. The course work shows students that the government is made up of people just like them who are doing the best they can to make good decisions.

"I can only hope that my students will continue to be interested and take part in the process," Ryder added. "I don't want them to be apathetic about the government. I want them to be active, or at the very least informed."

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected].

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

03/17/2006