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High School Government and Civics Class Meets with Town Officials to Promote Participation in Sister City Program with Saipan

It may be the least controversial article on next spring's town meeting warrant. The Government and Civics class at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School under the tutorship of Jay Villagomez is laying the groundwork for Groton's participation in the decades-old "Sister Cities Program" linking Groton, Massachusetts, to the island of Saipan, the capital of the U.S. Northern Mariana Islands. The program boasts a number of benefits for Groton with a total funding request of only $415.

In a meeting with town manager Mark Haddad and Board of Selectmen Chairman Jack Petropolus, students presented their argument for joining the program as a precursor to receiving the appropriate final approval at town meeting. The program requires that, "the mayors or highest elected officials from the two communities sign an agreement to become sister cities," which in Groton's case requires a town meeting vote.

Sister Cities International was originally formed by the Eisenhower administration to create peaceful international relationships through citizen diplomacy in the post WWII era. Many of the sister cities partnerships formed in the early days of the program are still thriving today. An example is the sister cities relationship between Seattle, Washington and Kobe, Japan which is the oldest of Seattle's 21 sister cities and is behind a number of ongoing activities and, over time, has seen a 300 percent increase in trade between the two cities.

The government class has begun the political process required to move forward on the proposed link. Their meeting with Groton officials was a first step. Next they must line-up support from appropriate officials in Saipan. For that part of the process, they will have the assistance of Mr. Villagomez, who is a native of Saipan and whose family is part of the local political scene.

Once all the approvals and paperwork are in place, an independent entity must be formed to manage the ongoing activities-the sister cities organization only serves in an advisory capacity and each local independent group must plan and sponsor its own program of activities. Typically, the local sister cities organization is it's own 401K non-profit although in some cities, it is part of the local government structure.

Students have also begun to think about some of the beneficial activities that could take place in Groton as a result of participating in sister cities. From a student perspective there is a range of possibilities including exchange of introductory videos between classes in GDRS and Saipan (time zones prevent real-time conferencing), to participation in the annual Youth Leadership Summit which is attended by students from around the globe. The latter would require local sponsors for travel expenses.

Outside the academic world, the students are thinking about some of the economic and cultural benefits for Groton. They plan to meet with local business leaders to discuss potential economic partnerships including tourism and agriculture. The students also envision a number of potential cultural exchanges including veterans groups, some of whom may have visited Saipan during WWII.

If nothing else one could argue that there is a lot of educational benefit to be derived from the students walking through the sister cities process whether or not it is a successful endeavor. Groton may also see additional benefits if a sustainable organization can be formed to drive an ongoing program of activities. Only time will tell.

If you are interested in the detailed background on the sister cities program, a lot of information can be found at the website: http://www.sistercities.org/

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