In these halls: Students become ambassadors to State Capital

April 2019 Posted in Community, People, School

By Melissa Wagoner

The students in the Community Roots School’s Adolescent Program got a behind-the-scenes look at the Oregon State Capital when they visited on Feb. 25 as Ambassadors for Oregon Montessori Education Day.

“Not every kid gets to go to the capitol and give speeches,” seventh grader Naia Gigena said. “What grownups usually get to do – we got to do.”

As Ambassadors for public Montessori schools in Oregon, the class spent the day delivering  speeches on a variety of topics – more than a few on the value of Montessori as an educational model but many others delving into subjects the students feel passionate about.

“I was talking about suicide prevention policies that schools need to teach,” seventh grader Ayden Pereira said. “I just thought it would be very important to me because I think suicide is a very big problem and it can easily be changed.”

Upon their arrival at the capitol, students sought out the offices of Senators or Legislators who are currently working on a bill related to the subject matter of their speech and asked to present their views.

“My topic was plastic bag pollution and why we should ban plastic bags,” Gigena said. “I gave my speech four times and everyone was really nice about it.”

Nearly all of the students found those at the capitol to be receptive to their ideas, no matter the topic. And one student in particular, seventh grader Danielle Velasco – who spoke about education for students with autism – was even commended on her speech by Governor Kate Brown.  

“I myself am autistic,” Velasco said. “And in my last school they didn’t support me very much. When I told Kate Brown that that’s what my speech was on she told me that the first female governor [Barbara Roberts] became a governor because she wanted schools to support autistic students better.”

Velasco wasn’t the only student who got feedback from the audience. Several others were asked questions and received comments about their topics.

“My speech was about transgender people,” seventh grader Jahne Heinzman said. “I wanted to support LGBTQ people and thought it would be cool to make a change.”

Heinzman, who has a family member who is transgender, received a host of emotional feedback that gave the class fodder for discussing, not only her topic, but also how to respond to emotional rebuttals.

“I talked to somebody, and their son was transgender,” she said. “It was pretty cool. They cried and I started to cry a little, too. But another guy, he told me I needed to fix my family member and get her help. I just listened to what he had to say because it’s not an issue; it’s how you feel inside.”

Although the original impetus for the class’ trip to the capital was to celebrate Montessori Day and to help spread the word about the benefits of Montessori education, much more than that was accomplished, according to the students.

“I don’t think it will change anything at the capital but I think it taught us about our values and what we want to see in the future,” eighth grader Cecelia Petrik said. “I think it was cool to find what we care about in the world and what we wanted to see happen and to talk to people about it in a reasonable way.”

“Everybody tells you, you can make a difference in the world,” eighth grader Gabrielle Richardson added. “It was really cool to see how it worked in the capital and be a part of it for two days and experience it for ourselves.”

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