And, by all accounts, they had a load of fun doing it.
Six students entering the seventh and eighth grade participated last Wednesday in the inaugural Hillsboro Youth Adventure, an event co-sponsored by the city of Hillsboro and Families And Communities Together Inc. as a way to build a stronger bond between youth and their hometown.
The participants were eighth-graders Trace Jost and Elli Weisbeck and seventh-graders Trinity Donaldson, Jenna Hinerman, Lynne Johnson and Grace Major.
The students, chaperoned by organizers Larry Paine and Clint Seibel from the city and Ashlee Gann from FACT, gathered at 6 a.m. for doughnuts and orange juice, then climbed aboard the city’s ladder firetruck, rescue truck or ambulance for a six-stop tour:
• At the water-treatment plant, they saw how technicians turn dirty lake water from Marion Reservoir into clean and purified drinking water.
• At the city compost site on North Adams, each participant got an opportunity to run a large backhoe and front-loader that the street department uses for earth-moving projects.
• At the nearby city shop, participants learned from electric department staff how homes and schools are powered and what causes outages. After that, each child took a turn in the city’s bucket truck, dropping a pair of water balloons at targets from a height of about 40 feet.
• On East Orchard Drive near Midway Motors, Fire Chief Ben Steketee revealed how each of the city’s four fire trucks is equipped, and gave the kids a chance to douse targets—and themselves—with a fire hose.
Rusty Moss, a department volunteer, demonstrated how a relatively small rescue tool had sufficient power to lift the back end of the rescue truck off the ground.
• At the nearby police headquarters, K-9 officer Brad Richards demonstrated how Remo the K-9 dog is trained to find illegal drugs.
Police Chief Dan Kinning and Assistant Police Chief Jessey Hiebert then allowed the kids to acquaint themselves with the controls of police vehicles, then role play a situation where a routine traffic stop goes wrong, forcing “officers” armed with water guns to pursue “the bad guy” for the arrest.
The day ended around 2:30 p.m. following an idea exchange with City Administrator Larry Paine.
Hoping for 15 participants for the first event, organizers were initially disappointed that only six students came. But their disappointment was short-lived.
Added Gann, FACT director, “If we had more kids, we probably would’ve needed to split into groups, and we were not prepared to do that the first time around. If we have more students sign up next year, we will be prepared to have different groups at different stations throughout the day.
“The day went very smoothly for the first time,” she added. “The city departments were great with the kids and were well-prepared with fun activities. We didn’t have any emergencies and had a great group of kids.”
Paine said Hillsboro Youth Adventure was patterned after a program the city of Great Bend has provided for some 15 years.
“When you copy somebody else’s work, it’s a compliment,” Paine said. “Over the past year we’ve been out to Great Bend and talked with them and got material from them.Obviously, what they did is different than what we do because of the makeup of the city.”
The idea to launch the program emerged from the city’s goal to strengthen youth retention, one of the four “pillars” of the city’s development philosophy.
“Our objective was to introduce (youth) to things that we do every day, and give them a sense of the things that go on that nobody knows about,” he said. “That objective was met.
“Another thing we were trying to do was introduce them to the jobs, so that when they go through their maturing process in junior high and high school, and try to decide what they want to do, they have an idea what kinds of job are available in the local market.
“The third part of it is to make sure there was a sense of connectedness to the community—that ‘city of Hillsboro’ is not some place that is dull and boring,” Paine said. “There’s a lot of interesting things that go on day to day that would help in the process of keeping young folks in the community.”
He said one last goal was to make it more likely that youth who choose to make Hillsboro their home might also be interested in serving on the citizen boards and commissions that provide hands-on guidance to its operation.
“It’s a longterm objective that’s not easily measurable,” Paine admitted.
Students have one opportunity to participate in the day-long experience, but “alums” of the program will be invited to a party each year to renew connections with the city.
When the alums move on to college, city representatives intend to continue the contact with occasional on-campus visits.
Enjoying the day
Paine said he felt the program accomplished the goal of making the day fun for participants.
“When they were on the backhoe and the loader, the smiles on their faces was like, ‘Wow, I can run this thing!’” he said. “That was the deal. We were trying to find ways to get ‘doing’ engagement as opposed to ‘watching and listening’ engagement.”
Four participants contacted afterward were unanimous in their endorsement of the event. Each found something to enjoy.
Grace Major said eating lunch with the mayor was the highlight of her day.
“I liked that we were able to ask her questions, ask her what she does and that kind of stuff,” she said.
Jenna Hinerman said the chase simulation at the police station was her favorite activity.
“I liked running in after Trinity Donaldson with the water guns and shooting her in the bathroom,” she said with a laugh.
Elli Weisbeck said, “I liked the police and fire fighting stations the best. I like working with animals, so I think it would be a cool job to work with a (K-9) dog.”
Trace Jost gave Hillsboro Youth Adventure a fun factor of 10 on a 1-to-10 scale, but had trouble identifying his favorite activity.
“I guess I couldn’t pick a favorite part—I enjoyed all of it,” he said. “They were all pretty interesting.”
Students did have one practical suggestion for next year’s event: Bring a gas mask or nose plugs to the waste-water treatment plant.
“It was surprising to me that the sewer plant smells like the bottom of a sink,” Jenna Hinerman said. “Everybody was holding their noses while we were there. I was going, ‘Sink.’ I do the dishes a lot.”
Organizers speculated that participation might have been smaller than hoped for because notices sent home from school didn’t get into the hands of enough parents.
If true, Trace Jost had this advice for his fellow students: “When the time comes either to share the form with your parents or hide it at the bottom of you bag, show them.”
Elli Weisbeck echoed similar sentiments: “I would tell (classmates) they should do it because they only get to do it once, and if they don’t, they’ll miss out.
“I’d also probably tell them that if they go, they get free pizza—another great reason to go.”