Maybe Jefferson Mayor Jim Joiner could grab tips from Jefferson Middle School.
For five years in a row, a student from Sherri Butler’s sixth-grade social studies class has won Georgia Municipal Association’s “If I Were Mayor” essay contest for district 5.
What’s the secret for success?
“It’s actually embarrassing that I get so much credit because about five years ago, a student teacher saw this contest and told me about it,” she said. “As a language arts teacher, you get a lot of these in your mailbox, but I took this on as the social studies essay contest.”
In sixth grade, students learn about the branches of the federal government, so Butler incorporates the essay into the curriculum and invites Joiner and other Jefferson officials into the classroom to answer questions.
“I get a lot of questions about what it’s like to be mayor, and I try to explain what it’s like in a small town,” Joiner said. “I try to give them some facts so they know what a mayor actually does without them getting too unrealistic. In the essays, you get all kinds of stuff. Some are hilarious and others are serious and have some really great ideas.”
After the first year, Butler began bringing the winners back to class to inspire the new group of writers.
“The winner really brought excitement, and now my work is easy,” Butler said with a laugh. “All I do is tell them about the contest and deadline. I don’t edit them, and I don’t even look at them. I just mail them in.”
Butler said many students focus on animal shelters, recreational opportunities, litter and pollution in their essays.
“This year’s winner talked about tourism in Jefferson by using a Crawford Long angle, and I’m really impressed with their ideas as the years go by,” she said. “They’re getting more thoughtful about things like infrastructure. How many sixth-graders know exactly what that is and how to improve it? We’re fortunate to have the mayor and city manager to come talk, and their essays are more sophisticated.”
Though Butler continues to give the students credit, the Georgia Municipal Association will give her some credit at a ceremony in Savannah in June for the five-year streak and this year’s winner at the state level.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Savannah, so that will be really nice,” she said. “But really, it’s very cool and I’m so appreciative.”