Friday, April 27, 2018

Windham High Social Studies class takes active role in civic engagement by Lorraine Glowczak

Students Emma Hodgeman, Brittany Woods and Libby McBride take a moment from their busy schedule to share their thoughts on today's issues. They pose with Ms. Rush (right).
Windham High School Seniors in Ms. Kelly-Anne Rush’s Social Studies class had a surprise visit from the Windham and Raymond delegation on Friday, March 23 as a part of a class assignment. The students had an opportunity to express their concerns surrounding certain issues to the five legislators who represent both Lake Region communities.
“The class assignment was to compose a letter to their representative expressing concerns they had and what they would like to see changed,” explained Rush. “What the students didn’t know was that they were preparing the letter to speak to their representative in person. The delegation had reached out to me and I invited them to visit the class. Only the class didn’t know that.” students were, in fact, surprised by their classroom guests but didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity to express their concerns to the attentive legislators: Senator Bill Diamond, Representative Sue Austin, Representative Mark Bryant, Representative Jess Fay and Representative Patrick Corey.

Three students in Mr. Rush’s class took time out of their busy schedules to reflect upon and share their experiences. Of the many concerns expressed, school safety was at the top of their list. 

Student, Brittany Woods, reflected upon the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that occurred on December 14, 2012 and how it made an impact on her. “I was in middle school when the Sandy Hook shooting occurred,” Woods began. “It was my first real experience regarding something of this magnitude and how it could possibly affect me personally. I remember feeling very eerie about going back to school after that shooting. I wanted to let the legislators know that we need to find ways for these fears to subside.”

Student, Emma Hodgeman, also expressed her thoughts about school safety. There were two major concerns she had. One of those apprehensions included safety at the doorways during morning arrival. “All doors are open, and we come in as a large group at the same time. Although teachers are at the doors and Officer Fournier [School Resource Officer] is at one entrance, it does not prevent someone who is not a student to come in through the doors with us. People can easily walk in with the morning crowd and not be noticed.” Hodgeman said. “I want to find a way for school arrival to be more secure.” 

The Windham and Raymond delegation pose with Ms. Rush
Hodgeman continued with her second concern. “I also think the student building passcode should change every year. I don’t think it has been changed for a long time and this is very concerning to me.”

Student Libby McBride spoke to the delegation about gun control. “I don’t think we should eliminate guns, but I do think we should place harsher limits on guns.” McBride stated.

Solutions to the safety concerns were discussed. The conversation between the students and the delegation included what the students could actively do to prepare for an emergency. One solution considered, was to keep informed on the most recent safety protocols. The students came up with the idea that these up-to-date protocols could be established and identified by the students in the required Health class during their sophomore and senior years. The class would then share those security procedures to be practiced by the school on an intermittent basis.

The experience the students had with their legislators was a positive one. “They had an engaging conversation with us like we were real people,” McBride said. “They were actively writing down our
ideas as we stated them.”

Woods concurred with McBride’s statement adding, “They enjoyed listening to us and actively cared about our opinions. In the present political climate, it feels as if our voices are not taken seriously nor heard, but I felt heard by them.”

In his letter to the editor of The Windham Eagle newspaper, published March 30, Sen. Diamond stated this about his visit to the class. “Listening to these impressive seniors who are about to end their high school careers and move on to the next step in their lives, was an inspiration to say the very least. Their sincerity and true caring for the school system and for their fellow students was striking. 

Above all else we, as legislators, came away from this session with a renewed spirit and confidence in the future of this next generation of leaders. I only wish their parents and grandparents and the community could have witnessed the commitment, dedication and insight demonstrated by these amazing students.”

Rush is also very proud of her students and stated that in the past 10 years, there has been a resurgence in the educational curriculum to include civic action, community involvement and financial literacy. “I’m very proud of how my students are learning quickly and taking an adult approach to civic action.”

McBride proves that mature actions currently take place by these young future contributing members of society. “It's very important to know that it’s one thing to post a complaint on Facebook or to protest against certain issues, but to make active changes one needs to register to vote, contact their legislators and get involved. We [the students] are doing that. We are not just complaining or playing on social media. We are making a positive impact and true change.”

If one believes that class activities such as this have little impact for future action, one could be not be further from the truth. In the 2016 election, Ms. Rush received an email and picture from a former student.

The picture was a voting ballot. The email said, “Hi, Ms. Rush. Here’s proof that I voted.”
Ms. Rush’s response - “And this, my friends, is what makes teaching worthwhile.”

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