It took two votes and a rock, paper, scissors contest to select the mayor and vice mayor of the 2021 Archer Junior Commission.
Six students were elected by their peers at Archer Elementary School (AES) and they narrowed down the leadership roles before taking their seats on the dais at Archer City Hall on Monday night where they were sworn in and held an official meeting.
Students Mayor Scout Smith, Vice Mayor Richa Patel, and commissioners Zoe Bean, Wyatt Crawford, Sara Bily, and alternate Brandelyn Davenport took the oath of office as they were sworn in by Archer City Attorney Clay Martin.
The tradition that serves as a hands-on civics lesson started more than 30 years ago by former Archer Mayor William Copeland who planted a seed to help area youth learn about civics.
Mayor Smith opened the meeting with the announcement, “As the mayor of the Junior Commission, I call our December 13th meeting to order beginning with the prayer by Brandelyn Davenport followed by the pledge by Wyatt Crawford.”
Each commissioner then offered up news about the school from new staff introductions to an upcoming Student Patrol candy fundraiser.
At the end of the meeting, Smith asked if there was any public comment.
Archer Vice Mayor Joani White stepped up to the podium.
“I just want to thank you all so much for what you’re doing,” she said and complimented the students on their commitment to their roles on the commission. “We look forward to next year with you,” she said.
The city donates $500 to the Junior Commission and the students choose a project to fund that will benefit their school.
“I am almost embarrassed and afraid to come up after you guys because you did such an awesome job,” Archer Mayor Iris Bailey said.
The audience clapped and cheered them on and parents took photos of the students at the dais.
After the meeting, AES Principal Libby Hartwell said she learned a lot about staff from the commissioner reports.
“The 15-year-old goat was interesting,” she said. “And I’m interested in hearing more about being hit by three semi trucks,” which one commissioner revealed while reporting about new staff member Mrs. Walls.
Smith who turns 11 years old next month said she had fun.
“It was an awesome experience,” she said. “I’ll remember it forever.”
The Archer Junior Commission is a one-of-a-kind activity in the state of Florida where most extracurricular civic education efforts at schools are in the form of debate teams at the high school level.
In 2021 the Florida Legislature addressed increasing civics education in K-12 schools and in state colleges and universities.
In July, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the establishment of a Civic Literacy Excellence Initiative which included:
- “$65 million for the implementation of the Florida Civics Seal of Excellence – a new professional licensure endorsement for educators in civics education.
- A $3,000 bonus for educators who complete training and earn the Civics Seal of Excellence endorsement.
- $16.5 million for additional training, professional development and classroom support for educators and principals seeking to elevate civics education in Florida schools, the creation of regional civics coaches to provide support for teachers in building out civics programs.
- $17.5 million to bolster Florida’s civics curriculum and expedite the implementation of Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards into Florida K-12 public schools.
- $6.5 million for a career pathway program to launch pilot programs for public service incubators to develop partnerships between secondary schools and government institutions, allowing students to explore government and public administration and inspire the next generation of leaders in Florida.”
DeSantis also signed the three bills HB 5, SB 1108 and HB 233 into law in July 2021. They aim to “strengthen civics instruction and civics literacy education in Florida’s kindergarten through postsecondary public schools,” according to a statement from his office.
House Bill 5 (HB 5), Civic Education Curriculum, requires the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) to “create an integrated K-12 civic education curriculum that includes an understanding of citizens’ shared rights and responsibilities under the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
Senate Bill 1108 (SB 1108), Education, “requires state college and state university students to take both a civic literacy course and a civic literacy assessment as a graduation requirement, bridging civics education between our high schools and postsecondary institutions,” and, “expands the character development curriculum for high school juniors and seniors to include instructions on how to register to vote.”
House Bill 233 (HB 233), Postsecondary Education, “Requires state colleges and universities to conduct annual assessments of the viewpoint diversity and intellectual freedom at their institutions to ensure that Florida’s postsecondary students will be shown diverse ideas and opinions, including those that they may disagree with or find uncomfortable.”