When grade 8 students in Cyrus Merrill’s history class began an assignment in the fall writing letters to their national representatives in Washington, D.C., they had no idea the effort would yield such tangible results.
In addition to writing their state representatives about reform issues, some students chose the “blanket” approach (as part of their lobbying plan), writing to state, local and national officials, as well as various newspapers.
Thanks to the class’ letter-writing campaign, several members of Congress contacted Harker about meeting with the grade 8 students during their upcoming trip to Washington, D.C.
“That helped allow us to choose who we wanted to meet with while we were in D.C., so all of their lobbying worked,” recalled Merrill.
In addition, Akhil Arun’s letter to the editor was published in the San Jose Mercury News during the government shutdown. Meanwhile, classmate Millie Lin received a call from a representative in state Sen. Jerry Hill’s office in response to her letter, which also expressed concern over the shutdown.
“The letter was a history assignment given when the government shutdown occurred,” explained Lin. “I really enjoyed this assignment. I also sent it to two other senators and a newspaper and got normal responses. My mom picked up the phone, because I was not at home. During the talk, the topic of internships was brought up. They needed someone who could write.”
Based on Lin’s writing (and passionate analysis about the debt crisis and government shutdown), the representative began discussing the possibility of an internship before realizing that Lin was only in middle school. Typically, students interested in public service and federal government are eligible to apply for an internship in a senator’s office as undergraduate college students.
The California State Senate has a legislative body of 40 members, with each member representing approximately 931,000 people. Due to the state’s large population and relatively small legislature, the state Senate has the largest population per representative ratio of any state legislative house.
“Millie Lin really wowed the senator’s staff!” enthused Cindy Ellis, middle school head.
Most recently, the grade 8 students embarked on a new letter-writing campaign to their state representatives as an extension of studying the reform era in the 19th century. The students are making modern appeals and expressing concerns over such topics as mental health, alcohol related topics, and the treatment and protection of women.
“I can understand why Millie enjoys Mr. Merrill’s assignment: These types of assignments inspire the students to be engaged in current affairs that are history in making. They are very creative and thought-provoking. It’s very different from the way I learned history, which was mainly based on memorization,” noted May Chen, Lin’s mother.