“They make all of the decisions, but they have no idea what’s really going on in our schools.” How often have you heard fellow educators make statements like these, in reference to superintendents, school board members, or legislators? I usually respond with humor: “How will they know what’s going on if we don’t tell them?” Maine’s “Invite Your Legislator to School” initiative seeks to facilitate connections with policy-makers, and school librarians are already perfectly positioned as community connectors to create these opportunities!
LD 822: Engage, Inform, and Enlighten
Kevin Grover, Maine’s 2010 Teacher of the Year, brought forward the vision of “Bring Your Legislator to School Week” during his year of service as Maine’s Teacher of the Year. A beloved and passionate elementary educator who died suddenly in 2012, Grover was committed to the idea that teachers and policy-makers at the local and state level should have more opportunities to form relationships with each other. In 2013, as a way to honor Grover’s commitment and his legacy, a state representative from his district sponsored LD 822, which has been officially adopted as:
“January is designated Invite Your Maine Legislator to School Month, and the Governor shall annually issue a proclamation inviting and urging teachers, school administrators and Legislators to observe this month through appropriate activities, including inviting Legislators to visit school classrooms to meet with teachers, school administrators and students in order to promote increased knowledge among Legislators of the prekindergarten to grade 12 public education programs provided to students in their legislative districts.”
The Maine State Teacher of the Year Association (MSTOYA) has been active in promoting this opportunity, which was how I heard about it.
January in Maine: Tough for Scheduling!
After initially receiving approval to invite legislators to the high school from my superintendent and principal, I reached out individually to my state legislators in early January to invite them to visit our high school. In the initial email, I offered to create a schedule so that they could sit in on classes or meet with student groups. Each one replied with interest and indicated their preferences in classes to observe, as well as which days would work for their schedules. Next I consulted with our master schedule to figure out optimal days for each visit, again considering the classes the legislators were interested in. When I had a tentative schedule, I reached out to the teachers to ask whether they would be comfortable hosting a legislator as a visitor in their class.
However, the best laid plans often fall by the wayside during the middle of a Maine winter! Due to inclement weather, I had to reschedule with my representative twice and once with my senator. Each time we had to reschedule, it meant a round of emails to the classroom teachers, as well as an update to the principal and superintendent. But by the end of March, both legislators had visited our school.
Civic Engagement in Action
I provided each legislator with a schedule of the morning in advance of the visit, and included a building tour. I included information about where to park and where I would meet them. On the day that Representative Paula Sutton visited, the US History class was having a student-led discussion about whether the government should regulate the Internet. Representative Sutton also sat in on two business classes, and attended lunch in our cafeteria. Senator David Miramant attended two different US History classes, met with members of the Maine Teen Advocacy Coalition (a student political action group) during break, and chatted informally with students over lunch. Senator Miramant remarked that he was really pleased to observe student-centered learning, and enjoyed the opportunity to connect with students. Sen. Miramant’s visit also coincided with our school’s Voter Registration Drive sponsored by the League of Women Voters. These were two days of civic engagement in action, when our students witnessed their elected officials taking the time to learn more about what’s happening in public education.
How do you inform your policy-makers about what’s happening in your school? How have you facilitated connections with your legislators?
Author: Iris Eichenlaub
Iris Eichenlaub is the Librarian/Technology Integrator at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, Maine. She is the 2017 Knox County Teacher of the Year, and was named an Inspiring Educator in 2017 by the Maine Education Association. Iris serves on the board of the Maine Association of School Libraries as the chair of professional development. Follow the story of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Library via Facebook (@ESVMLibrary or https://www.facebook.com/ESVMLibrary) or Instagram (@ESVM_Library or https://www.instagram.com/esvm_library).