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EDUCATION REPORT - September 18, 2003: 'America's Legislators Back to School Week' - 2003-09-18

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

In the United States, the third week of September is the observance of what is called America's Legislators Back to School Week. This is a time for state lawmakers across the country to visit schools in the areas they represent. A main goal of the week is to help students understand how a democratic society makes laws.

More than two-hundred-fifty-thousand young people are expected to meet and question state legislators. Eighteen educational and public service organizations help support the program. The National Conference of State Legislatures organizes it. Last year more than two-thousand legislators took part.

The observance of America's Legislators Back to School Week started in six states in nineteen-ninety-nine. At that time, it took place on one day. Now all fifty states and Puerto Rico observe the event for a full week. Legislators say it lets them observe and build connections with schools.

Another purpose is to get young people to take part in the political process. The National Conference of State Legislatures says that in nineteen-seventy-two, almost half of young people ages eighteen to twenty-four voted. But it says only thirty-three percent voted in the two-thousand elections.

During their school visits, legislators tell about the pressures they face while deciding on issues. They explain how they negotiate and debate. They tell about how they must often compromise to pass legislation.Teaching materials for the visits contain suggestions for talking about the democratic process. The materials say that young people’s ideas can influence the legislative process.

Special events take place during the back-to-school week. One event last year was a ceremony for students in Pasadena, Maryland. Students at the George Fox Middle School were honored for a report they put together. It dealt with a state project that they argued would harm the environment. Legislators who took part in the ceremony said the report influenced the state to change the project.

Teachers like Herb Schaunaman in South Dakota have praise for the America’s Legislators Back to School Week. He said his class learned a lot about making laws from a visit by a state lawmaker. He said they learned far more than they would have from a book and lecture.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.