West’s First Issue Fair

Is this the most pressing issue facing our community? What can we do to fix this problem? How much will your solution cost the government? Why did you choose this topic? Where is your research that backs up your claim?

These questions and others faced students at their first annual Issue Fair during the evening of June 2nd, 2011 at Wauwatosa West.

As part of their final exam, 11th grade American Public Policy students presented their research about a problem and suggested a possible public policy solution to Wauwatosa community members.

According to Junior Kristina Wanjiru, “Not only is unemployment a huge issue right now, but it affecting everybody. I know a lot of African American males who are not employed and that is why I chose this topic.”

A wide range of topics were presented including: competitive cheerleading, drug abuse, aging out of foster care, childhood obesity, cell phones in schools, and voter fraud. The presentations account for 15% of the students’ final exam grade. The rest of the grade comes from an issue investigation research paper, the presentation board and a teacher graded presentation in class.

Reactions among students were mixed.

When asked if the fair experience was helpful Liz Hoffman said, “Helpful? Not really, I feel like the students aren’t paying attention to what they’re doing. They’re just doing this to get it over with” she said. Other students didn’t enjoy the fair because of factors such as intimidation. For example, Becca Beitscher felt that “it wasn’t helpful, scary if anything. It was really loud and the judge had to get in my face and break personal space. It was nerve wrecking!” Porscha Bates, however, had different opinion saying, “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It teaches me a lot about other topics.” Personally, Bates felt that she had become more familiar with her topic, teen pregnancy, more so than she had before. She also felt that she was more comfortable speaking in front of the others because of the experience.

Judges such as Zach Garhart noticed the differences between the ambitions of students and stated that, “it was pretty mixed. Some were enthusiastic and others you could tell weren’t.” There were also those who felt that the fair was important to civic learning. Judge David Boardman said, “It’s always fun to see kids this age get excited about government policies.”

East started its Issue Fair in 1999 with the help of Social Studies teachers Beth Ratway and Ann Ward.

At the time there were 90 students and 30 judges, but the most recent East fair held 284 students.  Ward feels that the fair holds an important educational purpose, “it forces students show good citizenship skills by thinking about a societal problem in terms of realistic solutions. They’re analyzing and solving real problems, making the activity more real, or authentic… It also requires students to write and speak intelligently about the problem, something all citizens need to know how to do. Lastly, it brings young people and community members together – in many cases, the community members are the decision makers and stake holders in the problem being researched.”

American Public Policy Chris Lazarski felt that the experience brought about change in some students. “ I not only saw students who were well versed and very prepared about their issue, but I also saw students at the Issue Fair who have struggled throughout the year in class, but were there proudly discussing their topic. I also saw students who were extremely nervous and persevered to present their topic.  Whether it was the process of research, presenting in front of a stranger, or just being responsible – I saw lots of learning happening.”

Though there were students that were nervous, students who were enthusiastic, and students who didn’t care, West’s first Issue Fair seemed to be a success with over 200 students and 75 judges participating.

Having a West Issue Fair is a step to something greater. Ward feels that the fair should be a community event. “Bringing West into the Issue Fair is the next step in making this a truly community-wide event. Ideally, we should hold a city-wide Issue Fair, and West’s experience this year brings us closer to making that happen.”

Staff Writer: Waj Ali

Photographer: Kathryn Kreuser