A Kids’ Town Hall Forum upcoming at Henry County Middle School

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

Local students will soon get a chance to make their voices heard on issues affecting their community.

Henry County Middle School will hold A Kids’ Town Hall Forum in the cafeteria Oct. 31 from 10 a.m., to 1 p.m. It will be hosted by Action Ministries, in partnership with the school and the McDonough Youth Advisory Council.

A Kids’ Town Hall Forum gives area youth the opportunity to learn how local goverment operates and to get involved in the community. Special photo

Action Ministries is a nonprofit organization geared toward helping Georgians get out of poverty. Dwight Helton coordinates the group’s Smart Lunch, Smart Kid program locally and says the forum will provide a unique opportunity for students to “break barriers of unfamiliarity” with government officials.

“In Henry County, there has never been such a representative panel,” says Helton. “It’s really defined as an educational outreach for youth grades 6-12.

Ideally this will be an opportunity to educate our youth on how local government operates, and let them know they have a voice and that they can participate in their own self-governance. The overall essence of the event is to get the youth involved in a positive path for themselves and their communities.”

The forum will feature a question-and-answer period, in which students at the school can discuss issues with their local school and elected officials, school board representatives, county executives and community outreach organizations.

Eighth-graders at Henry County Middle School are currently involved in a service-learning project on civic participation. Helton says the students are researching government responsibilities in the City of McDonough and Henry County, as well as the history of voting rights, and identifying issues that are under the local government’s jurisdiction.

Dr. Kimberly Anderson, principal at Henry County Middle School, will be part of the panel addressing questions from students at the forum. The event, she says, is part of a school-wide initiative geared toward promoting student involvement in the community.

“Mr. Helton came to me with the idea, but it goes right along with some of the project-based service learning that our students are doing,” says Anderson. “We also want the community to be more involved in our school, and this is a way to bring the community into the school. This really makes learning come to life for the students.”

Anderson adds that students are preparing PowerPoint presentations for the forum, in an effort to be more knowledgeable about local government standards.

She is hopeful the event will encourage the students to learn more about their community, and perhaps even become leaders themselves in the future.

“I think there’s a sense of excitement on behalf of the students, to be involved and to know that someone is interested in their opinion,” says Anderson.

Additional panelists for the forum include: Henry County District I Commissioner, Bo Moss; Board of Education Chairperson, Dr. Pam Nutt; Henry County Schools Superintendent, Rodney Bowler; McDonough Councilmember-at-Large and Founder of the McDonough Summer Youth Camp, Gail Notti; the city’s District 4 Councilwoman and Founder of the McDonough Youth Advisory Council, Kamali Varner; City Administrator, Keith Dickerson; and the Executive Director of Communities in Schools for Henry County, Shane Persaud. A representative from the McDonough Police Department is also expected to take part in the discussion.

Commissioner Moss represents the area of the county that includes Henry County Middle School. He says he is looking forward to generating more interest in local government from students at the forum.

“They’re our future,” says Moss. “I think middle school kids, a lot of them, are interested already. They just want to know how the government runs.”

Organizers of the forum are requesting that no political campaign materials be brought to the event, stating that it is for educational purposes only and is neutral from a political standpoint.

Complimentary refreshments and festive treats will be provided.