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Elementary school kids hold their own mock town meeting in Woodbury

Small girl stands at microphone in a gymansium surrounded by school children in chairs
Erica Heilman
Vermont Public
One of Woodbury's youngest residents adds her voice to discussion of Article 2 at mock town meeting.

It's Friday, Feb. 24 at Woodbury Elementary School. Thirty-two students are in attendance.

Woodbury town moderator Stephen Murphy is about to kick off a mock town meeting in the school gym, which is also the cafeteria and the stage.

Murphy organized this town meeting as an educational experience for Woodbury’s youngest residents.

But just because it's not the real town meeting doesn't mean that things are getting pretty heated here, or that the stakes are not high.

There are two articles on the agenda today, and both are binding.

"You the students will decide how the school will spend its time and how the school will spend its money," Murray says. "This meeting will follow rules of order. These rules protect your rights. Among your important right are your freedom to speak and your freedom to vote. But with your freedom comes responsibility — to follow the rules and respect each other so that all students can exercise their rights equally. So, let's get to work."

The first article on the warning reads as follows:

Shall the Woodbury Elementary School go skiing at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center on March 14.

The alternative is to stay at school for outdoor learning day, which apparently is also a very attractive option. There is a lot of discussion and some disagreements, but ultimately this article passes.

It was really the second article that proved most contentious.

Shall Woodbury Elementary use the donated $500 to go on a field trip instead of buying equipment for the playground.

Red Hen Bakery donated money to the school and Woodbury principal Lisa McCarthy had planned to buy new equipment for the playground with that money, but some kids had expressed interest in using that money for a field trip.

Town moderator Stephen Murphy opens the floor for discussion.

"First, I would recognize James," he says.

"I think that we should use Ms. McCarthy's idea because if we’re going on a field trip that’s a one time use, but if we buy more equipment we’ll have it to use for longer," James says.

Robert disagrees.

"I disagree with James because we already have a lot of recess equipment, and we barely ever go on any field trips," he says. "So, I would like to have that experience more times."

Next up, Avery.

"I want to go on a field trip because some of the kindergartners have never been on any, and I think they might want to try something new," they say.

Evelyn goes next.

"I also have never been on a field trip myself, and I've been here three years now," she says. "So I think that it would be fun for all the little kids and everyone else to go on a field trip."

But then another issue is raised — a hole in a piece of playground equipment.

"I think we should use the $500 for recess equipment because the blue tunnel is broken and I wish we could get a new one, that way no one will fall through the hole," says Violet.

Marshall pushes back saying, "field trip because it's educational and aren’t we in school to get education?"

Man stands at podium in elementary school gymansium with many children sitting in chairs
Erica Heilman
Vermont Public
Town moderator Stephen Murphy presides over Woodbury mock town meeting

With the discussion now over, the votes are put to a paper ballot.

Town clerk Robin Durkee explains the rules.

"You have to put your own ballot in the box," she says.

And just as in all town meeting paper ballots, time passed. And people talked about lunch.

Then results.

"We had 32 of you registered to vote. Out of those 32, 32 did vote," Durkee announces.
"We have 22 yes’s and 10 no’s."

A cheer erupts from the crowd.

"Based on the results of your vote, article two passes. Woodbury Elementary School will use the donated $500 to go on a field trip," says town moderator Stephen Murphy.

After a motion to adjourn the meeting passes, Mr. Swanson leads his third and fourth graders in the town government song. The people's work was done.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message.

Erica Heilman produces a podcast called Rumble Strip. Her shows have aired on NPR’s Day to Day, Hearing Voices, SOUNDPRINT, KCRW’s UnFictional, BBC Podcast Radio Hour, CBC Podcast Playlist and on public radio affiliates across the country. Rumble Strip airs monthly on Vermont Public. She lives in East Calais, Vermont.
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