Fifth-grade teacher Michelle Hitzman couldn’t imagine the response she and her students at Meadowbrook Elementary School received when they put their persuasive writing skills to use, sending letters to their representative member of Congress – one of whom was Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.
“She sent a letter to the school and then one of her assistants contacted me by email to set up a visit,” Hitzman said. “The kids were thrilled to get a response.”
Schakowsky visited Hitzman’s classroom on May 3. But the path that took her there began months earlier, when the students were studying persuasive writing, including a unit on letter writing. Around that time, they read a news magazine story about owning exotic pets. The students wrote letters staking a position on the topic, and in January, Hitzman sent the letters to the students’ respective members of Congress.
Schakowsky serves in the animal rights caucus in Congress. In doing so, she said she receives hundreds of communications every week about animals from those living in the district she serves.
Schakowsky said reading the students’ letters, where they shared their thoughts about owning exotic animals as pets, caught her attention.
“Getting an answer to something that you write, I know, is a really meaningful experience,” she said. “I like to visit classrooms that are from kids of schools that are in my district. I thought this would be a really great opportunity to go out there and interact with the kids, and prove to them that it really does make a difference when you write a letter to people who actually can make a difference.”
Schakowsky said it’s important for students to understand the role legislators assume, and how they, as citizens, can use their voices to help in making the world a better place.
“My hope also is that they see a person in my position as a pretty ordinary person that they can talk to, and that this isn’t someone out of their reach that they can’t communicate and get a response,” she said. “I think that’s an important lesson, too, that people, like me, are really there to serve them.”
As part of her visit, Schakowsky set up an in-class exercise for the students to demonstrate what debates might look like in Congress. In teams of three, the children shared their arguments for and against gender inclusivity in sports.
“The important part was showing them you can have a very civil debate, and not to be afraid to get up and speak your mind,” Schakowsky said.
Hitzman said the congresswoman’s visit “brought government to life for them and sparked their interest.”
“I think this taught the kids that writing your opinion can and does get a response, and your voice can be heard - even when you're 10,” Hitzman said.