teen1.jpgSUNRISE — The room hushed as another commission meeting began at Sunrise City Hall. But at this meeting, a teenager pounded the gavel.

“The meeting is now in session,” Daniel Sohn, 17, said. “May I please have the roll call?” 

And so began the ninth annual “Mayor and Commissioners for a Day,” a program where students took over the dais to learn first-hand how city government works.

Lauderdale Lakes Commissioner Hazelle Rogers and the Kiwanis Club of Lauderdale Lakes/West Sunrise teamed up to present the program.

Students from Village Elementary School, Boyd Anderson High School and the Smart School Institute of Technology and Commerce played the roles of mayor, vice mayor, city commissioner, city manager, city clerk and city attorney during the hour-long meeting.

Sunrise Commissioner Sheila Alu invited the kids to hold their meeting in the city's commission chambers. The students spent months researching and rehearsing in preparation for the event.

Rogers said she came up with the idea nearly a decade ago after a student asked to shadow her for a day. Rogers took the request a step further by allowing that student and other kids to spend a day actually working as city officials.

“I wanted to engage them in a city exercise so they could learn about the legislative process and how government works,” Rogers said. “There are many ways to learn and it can actually be fun.”

At the April 17 meeting, Sohn, 17, a junior at the Smart School, appeared confident as he addressed the crowd of parents, teachers and other students. 

“On behalf of my board, I would like to thank you all for coming out tonight,” he said into the microphone.

Then the kids tackled tough issues like which presidential candidate would be the best pick to further education and how to help families affected by the foreclosure and mortgage crises.

The exercise resembled a real city commission meeting, with members of the public addressing the elected officials and a lively debate among commissioners as they eyed each other on the dais. Rogers sat in the front row, nodding her head in approval as the students acted out city business. 

When asked by a member of the public what to do about the housing crunch, Sohn’s face went blank.

“I don't pay my mortgage, my mother does,” he said. “What would I do?  I would probably have to get a job.”

The audience laughed.

As the students debated the topic, they discussed stepping up code enforcement to maintain foreclosed properties and creating programs to assist families in need.

“We have to remember the community is our family and we have to help them through it,” said Michelle Jones, 17, a Smart School senior who acted as city manager.

After the meeting, Jones said the experience taught her how government works in the “real world.” This is the second year the aspiring hotel entrepreneur has participated in the program.

“The school gave us topics to research and we really learned a lot,” she said.

Sohn's mother, Helene, of Fort Lauderdale, said it was a unique experience for the kids.

“This is incredible because it gives the kids the opportunity to be well-rounded and really learn about things that are important,” she said. “So many kids are busy with TV and video games that they know so little about economics or current events. This is an opportunity for them to become well versed.”


Photo: Daniel Sohn, 17, addresses the audience at Sunrise City Hall, posing as the mayor.