• James Townsend

Bipartisan Civics Classes Enter Their Fifth Year


A group of Ionia County Democrats and Republicans is preparing for its fifth school year making a civics presentation to students of the American System of Government at Ionia County high schools and at Montcalm Community College. The group, originally sponsored by the county’s Democratic and Republican parties, is now self-funded and operates independently. In contrast to the apparent acrimony in U.S. politics today, the group works in a friendly, bipartisan manner to set a good example and to inspire students to get involved in our system of government.

The group made its first presentations to two classes at Portland High School in 2015 under the guidance and advice of Christine Rocky, Principal. Now it makes the presentation to between 13 and 22 classes each year. To ensure quality and continual improvement, the group invited faculty and then students to formally evaluate the presentation. Faculty evaluated content and delivery one year, and then students evaluated content and effectiveness the following year. After each evaluation, the group did some fine tuning in response to the evaluations.

The group’s presenters urge students to do more than vote. They urge students to actually get involved in the nitty-gritty work done by some of their fellow citizens in the political parties that maintain the system that functions today. The presentation connects the dots between the Founders’ design and the need for citizen involvement in politics to provide the “fuel for the engine” of self-government. It also shows students how to contact their local parties in the county or on a college campus; how to register to vote; and it explains many benefits of being involved.

Finally, the presenters and students together examine current national issues to determine, based on policy positions taken by major parties, where the students might feel most at home as members.

As the 2019/2020 school year gets underway, members of the group are calling teachers of American Government to seek return invitations to continue this program.

“We all enjoy doing this” said Lynn Lafler, former Ionia City Clerk, James Van Goor, and Robert Van Lente, the group’s founding members. “And,” they added. “we are proud of the caliber of faculty we have in our county, and excited by the degree to which their students are informed and eager to discuss today’s major issues.”

Pictured above from left to right are presenters Robert Van Lente, Ally Cook, James Van Goor, Margot Cook, and Lynn Lafler.

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