In his second month in office, Thomson Mayor Ken Usry had the chance to get inside the minds of his younger constituents, and both parties' eyes were opened. Mayor Usry talked with sixth graders at Thomson Middle School on Wednesday, Feb. 13, to assist them with their entries in a statewide essay contest, "If I were mayor, I would...".
Sponsored by the Georgia Municipal Association, the state-wide contest challenges sixth graders to creatively use grade-specific language arts skills and civics/social studies knowledge.
Thomson Middle School language arts teacher Jennifer Harrison said the school has participated in the contest on-and-off for the past eight years, alternating with other essay contests.
"The (students) have really gotten behind the Mayor's essay this year due to the excitement of Thomson's Mayor Kenneth Usry with regards to this contest," Ms. Harrison said. "This is the first time that our mayor's office has come to speak with our kids and we were happy to have him here."
Mayor Usry spent the morning speaking four times to approximately 60 11-12-year-olds. Ms. Harrison said the students exercised note-taking and listening skills, which carried over into classroom discussion.
"I think it will make a difference in the essays this year," she said. "In the past, the essays have mentioned the students wanted a mall or a roller coaster. â€¦ They're not excited about how he's in charge of water."
The Mayor explained to the students that malls and skating rinks are private enterprise. He explained the city council and the different city departments including water and sewerage, gas, trash, police and fire departments. He encouraged the students to visit a city council meeting and briefly explained their procedure of establishing policies.
During question and answer time, the Mayor was obviously amused when the students asked if he rode around in a limousine and had body guards. It was the students' turn to be amused when he told them he drove a white pick-up truck. After more questions from the students concerning his executive status, such as did he have to wear a suit, fly in an airplane and could he choose his days off work, Mayor Usry was able to redirect their thinking along political lines. The topics of the questions changed to gas prices, new schools and taxes.
The Mayor responded with more discussion on free enterprise, the federal government, millage rates and his other full-time job as a banker.
"The students couldn't figure out how he can work only a few hours a day, so we had classroom discussion about how things are already set in motion," Ms. Harrison said. "They learned a lot about what he (does and doesn't have control over.)"
The essays will be sent to Mayor Usry's office for his final three choices. Essays will be judged on clarity, preciseness, tone and content. The three winners will accompany the mayor - in his white pick-up truck - to Atlanta for the district phase of the competition. One winning essay will be selected from each of the GMA's 12 districts. McDuffie students compete in District 10, which consists of 20 counties surrounding McDuffie. Winners, which will be announced the end of March, will receive a $250 savings bond. There are other prizes for winners at every level.