The students in the second grade at Orchard Farms Elementary School took a field trip to City Hall earlier this month, meeting with Mayor Allan Fung in Council Chambers, as part of a unit of study that focused on community.
The social studies unit was spearheaded by student teacher Laura Schwenk as part of her own studies. Schwenk is finishing up her Master's degree at Johnson & Wales University.
"For one of my classes, I had to create a unit for the students. As part of our unit on community, we learned about Cranston. We even created Cranston-opoly, where the students created questions, designed a board and money that featured people like Mayor Fung and [Prinicpal] Paul Heatherton on it," Schwenk said.
According to Schwenk, the trip to City Hall to meet with Mayor Fung was the perfect culminating activity with which to finish up their unit.
Mayor Fung welcomed the students to Council Chambers.
"I'm very proud to have all of you here. This is your office, my office," he said. "I am very glad to host you today as you learn about your government, because government is not just about your parents. I represent all of you, as well, and you are an important part of what I do every single day."
The mayor asked the students to guess approximately how big the city budget is, which he said was one of the biggest responsibilities he has as mayor. The guesses ranged from, "as big as an elephant," to anywhere from $10,000 to $1 billion.
"The budget is about $256 million. It pays for things like the roads getting plowed and emergency services like the police and fire departments and for things like taking care of the parks. Another one of the biggest parts is making sure that the school system is adequately funded," he said. "$256 million keeps a lot of things going."
He explained to the students how a city charter works.
"The City Charter governs how our city is run and it is voted on by your parents," he said.
Mayor Fung gave the students an example of how the city charter can be changed.
"For example, they recently changed the term for how long I can serve as mayor. I'm in my second term now, and I'm very honored to be here," he said.
He also discussed the various branches of government and how he interacts with each branch.
"I'm not the only person in charge here. I also have to deal with the legislative branch as well; there is a separation of powers, just like at the state and federal levels. Our city was formed hundreds of years ago and our government wanted to make sure that no one branch had more power than the others," Fung said. "I do have a final say if they pass a law and it's something I don't like. I can veto it, but just like with the legislature at the State House and in Congress, the legislature can override my veto."
When asked why he wanted to become mayor, Fung gave the students a brief history of how he ended up running for the office of Mayor.
"I never envisioned myself running for office. I went all through school and college and then went straight to law school. I grew up in Cranston, my parents had a local business here and I was really disappointed in those I'd voted for. In 2002, we were in a financial crisis. I decided I wanted to try to make a difference, so I ran for City Council and from there I ran for mayor."
Fung said working with other mayors and government leaders, both locally and globally, is another favorite part of his job.
"It's a very cool job to work with other mayors all over the state and all over the country. I even got to meet with the president and have breakfast in the White House," he said, noting that he never could have imagined many years prior that he would have had such an opportunity.
However, when asked what his absolute favorite part of the job was, he brought it right back to the students.
"My favorite part of being mayor is doing what I'm doing today, meeting with all of you. I love having the opportunity to meet and talk to you about how your government runs. I can't be an effective leader unless I know what is important to you, too. I represent you, and this is what government is supposed to be about," he said.
He encouraged the students before him to consider being a mayor some day also.
"Being mayor is the best job I've ever had. I have made lots of mistakes, but I've learned from those mistakes. I've learned a lot about myself and I've learned lots of cool things," he said. "I've gotten to meet the president, other governors and mayors. Hopefully one day someone in your class will have the opportunity to sit in City Chambers or to be mayor."