A look behind the curtain.
That is what Great Bend youths had a chance to do Thursday as they had the chance to take part in the annual Youth Academy. The event is open to any student who will be entering the seventh or eighth grade this fall.
Thursday was the first of two academy sessions, with the second taking place next Thursday, marking the 50th class to participate in the popular program. In all, 36 kids took part this week with another 46 signed up for the final class.
“It’s always a lot of fun,” said Great Bend Police Department school liaison officer Paul Millard. And, “it gives seventh and eighth grade youth in our community the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in what it is their city government does for them and their families.”
Great Bend City Youth Academy is an educational opportunity sponsored by the City of Great Bend to allow seventh and eighth graders a unique opportunity to interact with city officials and gain a behind-the-scenes glance at different City departments.
“Our numbers are up about 30 from last year,” Millard said. He attributes this to moving the academy from Friday to Thursday.
“This is a chance to showcase what we do,” said Fire Chief Luke McCormick. As he spoke, academy participants were being dowsed by a fire hose and throwing water balloons at firefighters at Fire Station Two.
These meetings between youth and officials are important, he said. “It gives us a chance to interact with each other in a fun, relaxed setting.”
Academy participants view many aspects of the city not usually available to the general public. The fast-paced program schedule allows a hands-on tour of individual departments within the city and allows participants to ask questions and have lunch with the mayor and city council members. City personnel make classroom presentations during their sixth and seventh grade years inviting students to submit applications for participation.
The students were bussed to Fire Station Two, Brit Spaugh Park, City Hall and the Street Department. They saw firefighting and police K-9 demonstrations, ran obstacle courses, witnessed a mock traffic stop and toured other city facilities.
Students finished the day with an “idea exchange” with city officials at City Hall. Past ideas from these have included the ice skating rink, Wetlands Aquatic Center and ball field improvements, and the skate park.
Their involvement with the Youth Academy won’t end there. Everyone who completes the program is invited back to a reunion party in July, and can return each year until they graduate from high school.