By Megan McClure
In this week’s “Our American States” podcast, we hear from two legislators working actively to engage student’s in their districts by going into the classroom to connect and educate them about representative democracy and the American form of government.
First up is Kentucky Senate President pro tem, Jimmy Higdon (R). Higdon has visited every fifth-grade classroom in his district, both as a representative in the minority and senator in the majority, for 16 years, supported by the materials provided by the NCSL’s America’s Legislators Back to School Program.
Higdon reflects on what has and hasn’t changed over the years as kids have become more savvy about information and technology and how serving in a rural district has affected his approach to teaching school children about representative democracy.
He offers advice to those interested in going out and talking with children in their classrooms and the rewards of this type of work and outreach.
“Even as a fifth grader, if you participate in the process you can make a difference.”
And, we hear from Massachusetts Representative Christine Barber (D), who decided to run for office after realizing that a lot of change happens at the local and state level.
As a lawmaker who previously worked as a legislative staffer, she offers her unique perspective on engaging with students in an urban area. As well as going out to schools, she offers opportunities for students to come into the capitol and experience firsthand the type of work that goes on in the legislature.
She also speaks about her recent interactions with students who came to visit her and the opportunity it afforded her to teach about the legislative process and how to engage with it. Her advice to those thinking about becoming more involved: “Don’t be shy about contacting your elected officials about something you care about.” Government is complicated and it’s OK to ask questions, you don’t have to be an expert.”
Megan McClure is a senior staff assistant in NCSL's Legislative Staff Services program.