American Government Classes Meet Their Representative

American Government Classes Meet Their Representative

“Legislative, Executive, and Judicial”

Over the last year State Representative Jimmie T. Smith has become a regular visitor at our schools.  It used to be that I would contact his office to arrange for him to visit a school but it isn’t uncommon now for him to contact me and invite me to stop by while he visits one of our schools.

A couple of weeks back I got just such a call from Representative Smith asking me to stop by as he served as a guest teacher in Mr. Billy Bass’s advanced placement American Government Class at Citrus High School.  When I arrived I thought Representative Smith was only staying for one period but to my pleasant surprise Rep. Smith guest taught for the entire school day.  High school currently has a double block period so it provides additional time to have an in-depth lesson. On this day Rep. Smith began talking about his responsibilities and what laws recently passed and then talked about how a Bill is created, drafted, and submitted.  Then the Representative ran a mock legislative session which included the students choosing something they felt should be done by the government to improve their lives and they developed a short Bill. Students then presented a Bill, debated the Bill, and voted to approve or reject the Bill.  I was so excited by the engagement and participation by the students and their excitement for civic learning that I contacted a middle school and asked if they might be interested in the Representative visiting and guest teaching.

This past Monday Representative Smith spent the entire day guest teaching which included six periods and a total of ten classes at Citrus Springs Middle School’s 8th grade American Government classes.  The format was changed as middle school periods are single block periods.  The class would begin with the students watching the video from School House Rocks, “I’m Just a Bill” (click here to watch www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFroMQlKiag). Then 8th grade teachers Mr. Shawn Keenan and Mr. Chris Harper introduced us.  I would first share how, as School Board Members, it was our responsibility to pass “policies” and rules pertaining to schools in Citrus County while outside of school it was the Legislative’s job to pass “Laws” for the state of Florida.  Rep. Smith would share that he was a former Citrus County student himself who grew up not that far from their school.  As he did with the high school students, Rep. Smith shared about the duties and responsibilities of a legislator.  Rep. Smith shared about debating Bills in committee and after talking with students about the process he played a short video from one of his committee meetings where they were taking action on one of his Bills.  The video begins with another State Representative asking a question and then, as the camera switched to Rep. Smith, students in almost every class would excitedly ask out loud, “Is that you?”   Following that moment the students often became even more engaged as they then realized and connected that they had a real State Legislative leader speaking in front of them.  One of the best moments of the day happened following the end of one of the periods.  After each period one or two students would often privately walk up to Rep. Smith and shake his hand and talk to him.  It was during one of these moments that it happened.  After the class ended this young man came up very respectfully and asked, “Rep. Smith, where do you stand on the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law”?  This was in regards to the recent killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.  At that point I gave the two some privacy but it was clear that they both were engaged in a productive and direct dialogue. I could not help but think how rare it is for middle school students to have that kind of opportunity to speak so directly to a State Representative and perhaps have an impact on a future decision that the Representative makes regarding the law.  It is very likely that the Florida Legislator will take up the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law in the next legislative session and this student’s words may have an impact on what his Representative decides.

Representative Smith spoke to me about what a positive day he had and he later went on to post on his personal Facebook site, “I spent the entire day at the Citrus Springs Middle School government class helping to give a better understanding of what a legislator does and how! It was a great experience for me. Thanks to all who made it happen and Thomas Kennedy, Mr. Roland and everyone.”

I appreciate Citrus Springs Middle School staff, American Government teachers Mr. Keenan and  Mr. Harper and Principal David Roland for making the Representative feel welcome and for providing the students this excellent opportunity.



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