For over a decade, Cherry Hill Township’s Student Government Day has offered Cherry Hill students the opportunity to learn first-hand about the processes and daily happenings of local government. Working with Township staff, local elected officials, and experts in various respective fields, this challenging and rewarding program has provided students the opportunity to spend the day researching and proposing resolutions to pertinent issues affecting our community. This program continues to grow each year and is viewed as a premier opportunity for students. Past participants have gone on to contribute to the greater community by residing as Council Members, serving as Legislative employees, and acting as leaders within the community.
Students from Cherry Hill East and West High Schools began their day at Town Hall by enjoying a welcome breakfast and electing a mock Mayor and Council, derived from their peers. The students from each school were joined together and then separated into two working groups addressing different issues and initiatives throughout the Township. Previous topics have ranged from combating drug abuse, traffic calming, fire safety, sustainability, and historic preservation. This year the students were tasked to promote economic development and draft ideas and initiatives for implementing the Mayors Wellness Campaign, a new initiative I plan to announce in the coming weeks.
The goal of Student Government Day is to include the students in the decision and planning process of real issues relating to the township. Throughout the day, the High School students worked feverously to address their given topic areas and to propose next steps and solutions to certain issues. Each team was led by Township employees and supported by outside professionals. The professionals addressed the groups, educated students during the day, and provided technical knowledge of their respective areas. Myself and Council Members also addressed the students and offered guidance and support on how the projects were progressing.
The Township administration has already begun working with the local Cherry Hill business community to identify ways that the Township can be more attractive to relocating businesses and more “business friendly.” As a former businessman, my goal is to help businesses realize the benefits of operating a business within our Township.
The economic development group was supported by professionals that focused on Real Estate and State level business marketing procedures. As a Commercial Realtor and Appraiser, Markheim-Chalmers assisted in addressing the factors considered when locating in Cherry Hill from a Real Estate perspective. A representative from the State of New Jersey Business Action Center educated the students about answer the larger question of “Why NJ?” thus helping the students focus on what it is that makes Cherry Hill Township appealing to businesses. The team took the knowledge and developed a marketing campaign for the Township, identifying the types of businesses best suited to locate in Cherry Hill.
Another new exciting initiative we are working hard on developing is the Mayor’s Wellness Campaign, a statewide voluntary program that equips Mayors, the Administration, and community members with the tools to develop and implement active-living initiatives. The ultimate goal of the program is to improve community health and wellness while bringing education and relief to the skyrocketing health care costs that coincide with the obesity problem throughout the state. The campaign will identify potential programming opportunities to serve a variety of demographics. Students tasked with progressing the Mayor’s Wellness Campaign, worked cooperatively with Cherry Hill Township Recreation Department, the Alliance on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, the Cherry Hill Board of Education Substance Abuse Coordinator, and a local nutrition and fitness expert to generate ideas for implementing the campaign amongst the township’s school-aged community members. We will have more on this initiative in the coming weeks.
Lunch was a working session, where students listened to and interacted with several Township Department Heads, to better understand their responsibilities. Members of the Township’s Legal Department did a presentation to the Students on Township ordinances, what they are and how they are drafted. The Township Clerk gathered members of the mock Council and explained how a council meeting functions.
Student Government Day concluded with a mock Council Meeting, where I, along with the Council Members, joined the students in viewing the Students’ presentations. Each group delivered their product in search of the mock Council’s approval. I was honored to join the students who worked so hard, their parents and school officials who attended the night-time mock Council meeting and participated with a lively round of question/answer about each topic before mock Council votes were taken.
Each year, Student Government Day is not only a great success, but proves to be an important lesson in local government for our young community members. I look forward to participating in this event for years to come.