The thought of kicking off summer vacation by waking up early and heading to a five-hour high school government class might seem unappealing to some sleep-loving teenagers, but 16-year-old Krista Musgrave of Des Plaines can't wait.
This week, she will join 17 fellow Maine West students who were selected to participate in the Des Plaines Clinical Government Program. A city tradition since 1975, the program allows incoming seniors to earn a half credit government course requirement alongside experiencing what officials say is an often transformative, hands-on life lesson in the diverse careers available in their own hometowns.
"I'm going to be meeting plenty of new people and this is definitely going to be an adventure," Krista said. "I don't know a lot about government, so this is an interesting and cool way to learn by getting very active in the community."
According to Karen Kozenczak, director of media services in Des Plaines, the idea for the program was sparked in 1975 by the late Eleanor Rohrbach, who was a city clerk, and Eric Edstrom, former Maine West social science chairman.
Determined to introduce the community's teens to the role of local government outside the confines of a textbook, the pair reached out to the city, coordinating tours and job shadowing opportunities that would give a real-life glimpse of city workers on the job.
This year, students also will attend the June 17 City Council meeting to observe the legislative process in action, and will be required to write a letter to an elected official.
"The Clinical Government Program plants seeds in these students about what career options are available to them in the community," Kozenczak said. "Participating in this program really opens whole new avenues for their future."
For Owen Doak, a social science teacher at Maine West and director of the program for the high school, the end of the regular school year means the start of an intensive three weeks of traditional classroom instruction, including teaching about both the U.S. Constitution and Illinois Constitution as well as coordinating visits to various sites throughout town.
"The students are doing everything from job shadowing and observing, to doing volunteer work at the Rainbow Hospice," said Doak, who recalled that a few years back, the program garnered more than 150 applicants. "This is a phenomenal program, so the students who apply all have to pass a 'character test,' because there's so much trust involved with having the kids at different sites across the city."
Getting a firsthand glimpse of police at work is at the top of the wish list for Krista, who hopes to major in forensic pathology at the University of Tennessee.
"Working in forensics is my dream," Krista said. "I love watching TV shows about it, and I read every book I can about crime. Forensics is fascinating to me."
In addition to Krista, this year's participants are: Kelly Adamek, Andrew Christiansen, Emilee Davidson, Nadeen Elmajdoub, Anesa Hanic, Dontae Harrison, Molly Juneau, Khrystyna Kostryba, Esequiel Mora, Kyrie Nelson, Janak Patel, Joanna Pilipczuk, Kassidy Riportella, Lukas Urbane, Kristina Wenk and Ben Whittenhall.