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Legislative Day at Susick Elementary ~ Barbara Gottschalk

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Barbara Gottschalk teaches English as a second language at Susick Elementary in Warren Consolidated Schools, a public school district in suburban Detroit, Michigan. She has taught in five different states in three very different parts of the country.  After a two-year stint teaching English in Japan early in her career, she returned to the U.S. to earn an M.A. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.  Later, she also earned an MBA, which helps her now to analyze data to target support to the students who need it most.
When I was a student at the University of Nebraska, I had a political science professor who had also been a member of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.  I still remember him saying many of the laws that affected students the most were ones enacted at the state level.  It’s ironic because citizens are far more likely to be familiar with the legislators representing them in Washington, D.C than in their state’s capital.  I’m pleased to report that’s not the case now at Susick Elementary in Troy, MI after our Legislative Day on March 30!

The seeds of this special day were planted this past December, when third grade English language learners helped me write a letter to the editor of the Detroit News giving their opinions about a third grade retention law being considered by the Michigan State Legislature.  That inspired our principal to invite several state legislators to our school for a Legislative Day that would provide more opportunities for meaningful interactions with students and teachers alike than the typical appearance legislators make during March for Reading Month.  I was one of six teachers on a committee that met with our principal to craft the agenda and make plans.  Beth Maloney’s Teacher Champions blog about her district’s “Take Your Legislator to School Day” gave us some valuable ideas.

We invited the four legislators who represented our school’s attendance area; State Representative Martin Howrylak and State Senator Marty Knollenberg accepted.  We provided them with a detailed agenda for the morning, a list of topics the students wanted to discuss with them, and the questions the teachers wanted to ask.  We even picked out appropriate curriculum-related picture books for the legislators to read with the students and provided Powerpoint presentations of the book pages to support the readings.

On Legislative Day, Rep. Howrylak and Sen. Knollenberg toured the school with our principal, read to the upper elementary students, met with a selected small group of students, and had a working lunch with the teachers.  Both legislators said they valued input from their constituents, especially personal meetings.  They also stressed the responsibility they felt to represent the interests of all of their constituents – regardless of party affiliation.  We were mindful of the legislators’ valuable time and used the three hours they spent at our school wisely.

Like Beth Maloney, I heartily encourage other teachers to do this or similar activities at their schools.  Our local teachers’ union issued a list of union-endorsed state legislators they recommended we invite to read to our students during March is Reading Month.  The two legislators who attended our Legislative Day were not on this list, but who better to engage in discussion than those with whom we might disagree?

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