It was more than 30 years ago that former Archer Mayor William Copeland planted a seed to help area youth learn about civics.
Now, decades later, his idea of launching the Archer Junior City Commission has impacted generations of students who have taken part in holding an election at Archer Elementary School (AES) and then having the winning candidates conduct meetings at city hall.
Current Archer Vice-Mayor Joani White visited AES on Monday to officially launch the 2021 commission along with Satori Days, who served as mayor on the junior commission in 1998.
“He wanted to partner with the school to show how the city worked and give young citizens a lesson in campaigning and voting,” White said. “They do everything that we do and the city budgets $500 for them to budget.”
Each year the students choose a project for the school that will benefit the students and staff and then they use the money from the city to make it happen.
Local businesses that would like to add to the project fund amount can do so via the city or AES.
According to AES Principal Libby Hartwell, the last junior commission from 2020 decided to install a water bottle filling station with the funds.
“They pick something that is good for the school and community and work toward that project,” White said, adding that no adult at the school had thought about a water filling station, so the students made that happen on their own.
According to White, the kids are excited to get the process going after Monday’s kickoff event where she and Days explained what the program entails.
Candidates receive poster boards to start advertising their campaigns, and they will make a speech on Nov. 9 followed by an election on Nov. 19.
White said the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections has always been supportive of the program and provides “I Voted Stickers” and loans voting station partitions for election day privacy.
“We count up the votes and the elected students attend an Archer Commission meeting once a month,” White said.
Elected students will take their positions at the dais in Archer City Hall in December and White said they will “report on anything going on at the school, with the PTA, or any new teachers.”
That’s when the junior commission will reveal what project they will spend the $500 on.
At the end of the program, students usually will visit Tallahassee to tour the Capitol and watch legislators in action, White said.
“They sit in the governor’s seat too,” she said.
White said she is looking forward to hearing the campaign speeches in a few weeks.
In a previous year, one student said she wanted to see the local Archer library open on Saturdays—and it was within six months of her speech, White said.
“They run on all kinds of things,” White said, noting they have to explain to students that they can’t run on a platform that has to do with “getting out of class or an extra day off school.”
Five students will be elected in November for the first time since the pandemic interrupted the program for two years.
Hartwell said two teachers will serve as advisers to the commission: science teacher Cherith Davenport and third grade teacher Christy Thomas.
“They will help with the election process and will be at the commission meetings,” she said. “I’m anxious to see it all in practice with the kids actually sitting at city hall.”