Students in Massachusetts, where the state house sits on Beacon Hill, played "Who Wants to be a Beacon Hillionaire," with state Senator Richard T. Moore, on Friday (9/15). If they answered all 15 multiple-choice questions correctly and didn't use more than three lifelines, they graduated from Intern level to Governor of Massachusetts.
Moore was one of nearly 2,000 legislators who went back to school to talk to students about state government as part of the first national "America's Legislators Back to School Day." The bipartisan event works to define for students the workday, pressures, issues and compromises that go into being a lawmaker. For legislators it was an opportunity to see how education, the number one issue in the country according to most polls, is being changed by recent reforms.
In Maine, students helped draft legislation focused on children's issues and some debated the school lunch menu, according to Maine Representative David Madore, who moderated the debate at an elementary school in Augusta.
"Our teachers see this as a special opportunity to engage students and build their understanding and support for America's democratic institutions," said Hawaii Senator David Ige, chairman of his state's Education and Technology Committee. Thirty-five legislators signed up for the educational program in the Aloha State.
Indiana lawmakers participated by the score - nearly every member of the House and Senate promised to visit a school.
Marian Van Landingham, a Virginia Delegate, visited T.C. Williams High School in Northern Virginia and said she hopes students walk away with a realistic understanding of state government. "The state, being in the middle, is not as close as the local government or as obvious as the federal government, especially around here in the nation's capital. It seems that state government is seen as one hundred miles away and one hundred years behind."
The program began as a pilot project in six states last year and was expanded this year under the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) new civic education initiative, the Trust for Representative Democracy . The project coordinators hope it will help students understand democratic institutions and encourage their involvement in public service.
"We expect to reach more than 100,000 kids throughout the country with this program," said project director Jan Goehring.
NCSL joined with the Center for Civic Education, the National Education Association, The American Association of Elementary School Administrators, the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary Principals to sponsor the event.For reporters who would like to cover this story, go to NCSL's web site to find out who coordinates your state's program.