COLLEGE STATION What does ad valorem mean? What does a county clerk do? How are county governments in Texas structured, and what services do they offer?
These and other questions are answered in a new statewide 4-H curriculum enrichment program developed to increase awareness and understanding of local government among seventh- and 12th-grade students.
We were looking into updating the 4-H County Government Guide, which was about 25 years old, but after extensive input the idea morphed into producing a new 4-H curriculum enrichment program, said Rick Avery, director, V.G. Young Institute of County Government, part of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and one of the organizations developing the program.
The result was Keys to the Courthouse: A Curriculum Enrichment Program for Youth, a more than 170-page leadership-oriented publication on county government, produced through a partnership between the Texas Association of Counties, the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas and the V.G. Young Institute.
Each lesson includes information compatible with state-mandated Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, TEKS, requirements and teachers may use these in conjunction with in their own lesson planning.
The program features five lessons with associated, age-appropriate classroom and research activities, Avery said.
In addition to helping students meet requirements, the program will help them build developmental assets, including community values and serving others, as well as life skills such as responsible citizenship, teamwork, planning and organization, he said.
Chapters of the publication address county government framework and function, services offered by county government, the justice system, local elections and voting, and financing county government. Contents include vocabulary, roles of elected and appointed county officials, county services, county legal system components, a description of the local election process, and an explanation of county funding and budgeting. There also are various age-appropriate activities, including additional vocabulary, review and note pages, fill-in-the-blank quizzes, word search, county service cards, research projects and a County I.Q. test.
The spiral-bound publication will include a fold-out map of Texas counties and a DVD of program activities that may be printed separately.
The DVD also contains video tours of various county offices throughout the state which have been prepared by the Texas Association of Counties in its County Government: There When You Need It video, said Gene Terry, executive director of the Texas Association of Counties.
Unlike the counties in some other states, all 254 Texas counties have a similar form of county government, and that makes it much easier to use the curriculum statewide, Terry said. County government is the level of government with which the average Texan will have the most interaction during his or her lifetime. Educating young people about county government will make them more familiar and comfortable with it, and help them understand how it benefits them and their community.
The program was developed over a three-year period with extensive input provided from focus groups consisting of county officials, school teachers and administrators, AgriLife Extension agents, and 4-H youth and adult leaders, explained Dr. Toby Lepley, AgriLife Extension 4-H and youth development specialist and state learning strategies coordinator.
We received input from those who would be using the program and would have the most to offer toward determining its content and direction, Lepley said.
Burleson County Judge Mike Sutherland joined a 25-member focus group in Austin in 2008 to provide input toward curriculum development.
As a former teacher who taught a class on government, we used to spend about two weeks on local government, about three weeks on state government and the rest of the semester on the federal government, he said. Increasing the focus on local government and getting young people to understand its structure and limitations will help them become more well-informed and responsible citizens.
The program will benefit society as young people learn the role of local government and how they can become more involved in it as a way to improve their community and state, added Sutherland, a member of the Texas Association of Counties and the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas.
I thought it was great that they included me in a focus group, said Melanie Plemons, 18, who has been a member of Cooke County 4-H for 10 years. It's important that young people know about voting and other things in the government. When you turn 21, government controls a lot of what you do, so you need to be informed.
An initial printing of the publication will be completed this spring and distributed statewide to county agents of AgriLife Extension involved in 4-H and youth development efforts. Agents will distribute or make these publications available to 4-H programs and county officials. They also will promote the materials directly to local social studies teachers, focusing on seventh- and 12th-grade government classes. The publication also will be available on the AgriLife Bookstore Web site, http://agrilifebookstore.org .
In May, we will begin distributing these publications and also will be holding regional and district trainings to familiarize the agents with the program, Lepley said. And in July, we plan to add the curriculum to the Texas 4-H Program Curriculum Catalog.
In September, county AgriLife Extension personnel will begin actively marketing the program to school teachers during curriculum enrichment educational programs, he added. In November, a County Government Workshop is slated for the Texas 4-H Summit on the Texas A&M campus.
The curriculum is also written so an elected official can use components of the curriculum with civic groups and other adult audiences to explain the role of each elected official and county government, Terry noted.
The materials also will be posted on the Texas Association of Counties public education Web site, www.TexasCounties4U.org, which includes videos showing how to obtain county services, plus other information about Texas county government, he said.
4-H clubs can use this as part of their citizenship program, and judges and county officials can use it for educational and awareness efforts, plus we've also had 4-H parents who home-school express an interest in the program, Lepley said.
We're excited about this new curriculum enrichment program and hope it will help fill in any gaps in existing school curricula on county government, while helping young people be more aware of and involved in county government, Avery added.