Berwyn Heights students take over for Town Council -- Gazette.Net






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After a heated Town Council discussion Monday that split council member opinions down the middle, 12-year-old Elias Herrera-Guzman broke the tie with a mayoral vote in favor of a book fair at Berwyn Heights Elementary School and closed the meeting with a loud bang of the gavel.

“I have to base [my choices] on facts and not opinions, and not be biased,” Elias said. “I listen to my council, and I listen to every thought they have, and I try to see if their opinions make sense and if they’re adequate or not.”

Elias and four fellow Berwyn Heights Elementary sixth-graders took part in their school’s annual mock council meeting Monday, sitting at a row of folding tables at Berwyn Heights Town Hall.

Elias presided over the book fair debate with input from his council members, Leah Baptiste, Eric Cruz-Mendez, Kaylee Kembumbala and Stephanie Arias. Elias said the tie-breaking vote was a tough decision, but that he felt persuaded by the arguments of the book fair proponents who stated the fair would bring students to the library and make money for the school.

Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo said the town has been hosting student mock councils for about 11 years. He and other council members sat behind the students during the meeting, whispering advice when necessary.

“This is a chance for their student government to come down here and see how a real government runs and sort of try it out for themselves, so it’s always fun,” Calvo said. “I think they realize that it’s harder than it looks. It’s easy to have an opinion, but it’s harder with the camera rolling to express it and go through the process of turning an idea into a government function.”

Calvo said he was impressed by the students’ arguments and dialogue.

“That was a lot more contentious than I expected for a book fair,” he said.

Leah, 12, was against the book fair and made the argument that some books could be inappropriate for young children.

Kaylee, 12, counter-argued that librarians can monitor book content, and that book fairs offer social and financial benefits.

“[Book fairs] brings students together, students that wouldn’t even visit the library,” she said. “[It is] exciting to know something is going on at your library.”

After the mock council meeting, Kaylee said she has considered a career in local government and that Monday’s experience gave her insight into the government process.

“As you can see, when you have two leaders that are fighting against each other, the tension kind of builds, which means you need to back up your evidence real good and you need to make sure it’s foolproof,” she said. “I’m thinking I’ll have to really prepare if I want to do this job.”