Originally created 07/31/05

Start-up of clubs hinges on initiative of students



Politics and government should be important to young people. After all, it won't be long before today's high schoolers are tomorrow's senators, city council members and, most of all, voters.

When Alex Thurmond, 17, a rising senior at Evans High School, discovered that his school didn't have a student organization that exposed students to the political process, he decided to start his own.

"I looked around and saw that Lakeside (High School) had three, one for each political party, and I figured we could at least have one. I didn't want it to be one party, I wanted something all-encompassing," Alex said.

Four months after he began trying to find a sponsor, defining the club's purpose, and getting it approved by the principal, Alex and 15 other students had formed the Political Society, a nonpartisan club that urges students to broaden their knowledge of politics and become more active in their communities.

Alex isn't the only enterprising student.

Schools throughout Georgia allow student-run, student-initiated clubs. In fact, most school districts support them as a way to enhance the learning experience and foster the leadership of their students.

Despite how beneficial they can be, there still is a lack of official procedure with how to get one going and what governs the bodies.

This past school year, student clubs came under fire when the Georgia Board of Education wanted to pass a ruling that would require parents be notified as to what clubs their children join.

Though that measure was defeated, there still is a chance the state Legislature could propose a similar parent-notification bill.

Locally, there are no moves to start a notification process, and school district officials say they leave what clubs are started at school up to the principal's discretion.

"We don't have a formal procedure," said Sandra Carraway, the assistant superintendent of student support for Columbia County schools. "Usually students will go and say they're interested in starting a club, ask a teacher to be a sponsor and then present that to the principal."

The principal then decides whether the group will be allowed.

"It's his (the principal's) judgment," Dr. Carraway explained. "The principal has jurisdiction ... If the club could pose harm or disruption, then he probably wouldn't approve it."

Aiken County has a similar club approval process, said Assistant Superintendent Frank Roberson. It is unclear whether Richmond County has a written policy or detailed procedure. Repeated inquiries to school spokeswoman Mechelle Jordan were referred to Assistant Superintendent Patricia Burau, who was in meetings.

Because there aren't countywide procedures for starting school clubs, administrators suggest students ask their school for specific guidelines.

Alex says that taking the initiative could pay off both in the short- and long-terms.

"College admissions seem to like that if you don't have this club or that, that you should start it," he said.

"And it's not just to look good on an application, though. There's the chance for social interaction. You can make new friends. Plus there's personal fulfillment. You can learn a lot from a club."

Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or kamille.bostick@augustachronicle.com.

No permission
Earlier this year, school clubs encountered some scrutiny when the Georgia Board of Education considered passing a rule that would require parents to give permission for their children to join student clubs. In part reaction from controversy surrounding a gay support group in White County, the ruling, which some thought would infringe on the First Amendment rights of students, didn't pass.