State Lawmakers Talk Politics with Memorial Middle School Students
Are politicians made? Or are they born? Is there a genetic component that predisposes the embodiment of civic responsibility in certain individuals? Or is it that potent mixture of education and experience that prepares and motivates people to pursue a place in the political forum?
There is likely no one answer to determine if it is the influence of nature or nurture that has a greater impact on the creation of political figures, and while history provides examples to support both arguments, it is more likely, that a politician’s development is the result of a confluence of factors that include, upbringing, education, experience and perhaps some innate characteristics.
Regardless of your stance on the role of nature and/or nurture in the genesis of politicians, there are certain experiences that undoubtedly ignite the political passions of some individuals, encouraging future political pursuits. Often, these formative experiences are based in educational endeavors, which may include, classroom lessons on history, political structures and government, visiting politically significant locales on class trips, special assemblies presided by political figures, or participating in political-themed co-curricular activities like the Institute for Political & Legal Education’s Mini Model Congress. While any of these singular experiences might hold enough significance to inspire a future legislative leader, the students enrolled in Memorial Middle School’s Eighth Grade Gifted & Talented program, should they harbor any political aspirations, have a distinct advantage, having experienced all of these and more, this year alone in Katherine Clapp’s Social Studies class.
“Eighth Grade Social Studies covers a lot of exciting content regarding the political history of the United States,” said Mrs. Clapp. “Over the course of the year, all eighth grade students are learning about the structure and function of government in their respective Social Studies Class, lessons that are reinforced by the Eighth Grade Washington Trip the students take earlier in the year. However, only the students enrolled in Gifted & Talented Social Studies participate in the Mini Model Congress.”
According to Mrs. Clapp, the Mini Model Congress offers a full curriculum sequence that actively involves students in practicing Parliamentary procedures and debating strategies, as well as researching and writing their own bills.
“Mini Model Congress provides students with the opportunity to become entrenched in the legislative process,” she said. “From their first initial concept, to crafting mock Federal bills and following those bills through enacting at Mini Model Congress Day.”
“Participants in the Mini Model Congress program gain tremendous insight into the political experience, and although, Memorial Middle School’s Mini Model Congress members have always concluded their participation in the program with many positive and exciting memories, the experiences had by this year’s participants have been nothing short of exceptional,” said Mrs. Clapp.
In January, a preliminary tour of Trenton’s State House, taken in advance of Mini Model Congress Day, took an unexpected turn as the students came face-to-face with Governor Chris Christie, meeting Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno a short time later.
“After engaging in a question-and-answer session with the students, our tour group was invited to be the Governor’s guests at his press conference,” said Mrs. Clapp. “Simply meeting the Governor would have elevated the class’s experiences to extraordinary, however, that was just the beginning.”
Mrs. Clapp said the students’ increased confidence gained from touring the State House and meeting the Governor may have influenced their success at March’s Mini Model Congress Day, a unique role-playing event that provides students from across New Jersey the opportunity to debate, argue and challenge proposed legislation in the State House Annex.
“Whether it was the increased confidence, familiarity with the State House, or general overall preparedness, Memorial Middle School’s Mini Model Congress members experienced outstanding success at Mini Model Congress Day, resulting in a number of students receiving awards of distinction for their roles in the mock General Assembly,” said Mrs. Clapp. “Participation in the Mini Model Congress can have a powerful influence on students’ future political interests or aspirations. Being recognized for demonstrating excellence in their participation can further enhance that impact, with life-changing results.”
And, according to Mrs. Clapp, one student has already taken proactive steps to engage the formal political arena. For 14-year-old Bryan Rogers, who was recognized for his debating skills at Mini Model Congress Day, his experiences became the catalyst for inviting a number of State legislators to visit the school. An invitation that was accepted by New Jersey State Assemblymen Sean Kean and Dave Rible, who visited the school for a special assembly on April 27th.
“The students who participated in the Mini Model Congress were joined by the students in all my eighth grade Social Studies and Civics classes for the one-hour assembly, with Assemblymen Kean and Rible,” said Mrs. Clapp. “The Assemblymen discussed their primary job duties and responsibilities before introducing some of the bills they are sponsoring that are currently in development.”
Mrs. Clapp said that in advance of the assembly, the Assemblymen sent the class copies of bills they were sponsoring, that they felt would appeal to the students.
“Assemblyman Kean discussed a bill in development that would restrict the use of pesticides on playing fields and another that would establish tax credits for taxpayers contributing to scholarships for low-income children,” she said. “Assemblyman Rible drew more from his history in law enforcement, discussing a bill that criminalizes gang membership and one that would prohibit school employees from having to search for explosives.”
“The Assemblymen’s visit was an excellent learning experience that added another dimension to what the students have learned throughout the year,” said Mrs. Clapp. “Much of the students’ eighth grade course content focuses more on the Federal aspect of government, having the opportunity to speak with the Assemblymen provided valuable insight into the operations of our State Government.”
“Their outstanding performance in Mini Model Congress Day coupled with their experiences meeting Assemblymen Kean and Rible in addition to Governor Christie and Lt. Governor Guadagno, have made for an unforgettable eighth grade experience for the students who comprise Memorial Middle School’s current Mini Model Congress,” said Memorial Middle School Principal Gary Floyd. “I extend both, my gratitude to Assemblymen Rible and Kean for their role in helping to educate our students about the role of State Government, and my commendation to the entire Mini Model Congress team for their competition success, and also to Bryan Rogers for his proactive efforts to enliven classroom lessons with authentic experiences.”