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Fort River sixth-graders engage McGovern, local officials in civics

  • Fort River Elementary School sixth-graders A'nayah Smith, left, and Emani Adams, both 12, listen as U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, right, responds to questions Wednesday during a culminating event for the civic literacy curriculum at the Amherst school. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Fort River Elementary School sixth-grader Jason Ramirez-Zavala, 12, who is from El Salvador, center, talks to U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, right, about a racist comment directed at his family in the past and his concern regarding the current climate for people of color in America May 30, 2018 following a culminating event for the civic literacy curriculum at the Amherst school. Through the curriculum, students learned about and discussed societal problems and then presented their proposals for moving forward on those issues to community leaders. Ramirez-Zavala wrote a letter to McGovern expressing his concerns. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, back left, responds to Fort River Elementary School sixth-graders Jocelyn Vargas, center, and Ashley Rodriguez Duran, both 12, after the girls advocated for making school lunches more representative of the diversity in classrooms May 30, 2018 during a culminating event for the civic literacy curriculum at the Amherst school. Through the curriculum, students learned about and discussed societal problems and then presented their proposals for moving forward on those issues to community leaders. Following their presentation, Vargas and Rodriguez Duran gifted McGovern with homemade pupusas and empanadas, which they said represented staples in their diet. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, left, responds to Fort River Elementary School sixth-graders Jocelyn Vargas, center, and Ashley Rodriguez Duran, both 12, after the girls advocated for making school lunches more representative of the diversity in classrooms Wednesday. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • A Fort River Elementary School sixth-grader raises their hand May 30, 2018 to ask U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, a question during a culminating event for the civic literacy curriculum at the Amherst school, in which students learned about and discussed societal problems and then presented their proposals for moving forward on those issues to community leaders. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, responds to questions from Fort River Elementary School sixth-graders May 30 during an event for the civic literacy curriculum. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



For the Bulletin
Thursday, June 07, 2018

AMHERST — One group of sixth-graders urged Congressman Jim McGovern to push for immigration policies that don’t separate families.

Another group told Amherst Select Board members Douglas Slaughter and Alisa Brewer that the government should invest in clean, sustainable energy sources, like wind and solar.

Other sixth-grade students from Fort River Elementary School presented plans to the three politicians during a civics literacy program on Wednesday on a range of other issues, including gun control, information literacy, international aid, homelessness and school lunches.

In preparation for the visit from McGovern, Slaughter and Brewer, students from three classes who participate in the school’s civic literacy program created proposals to solve issues they chose to research. The students presented their proposals, backed up their arguments with facts and personal stories and asked the officials for more information on how these issues are being handled currently.

To the students who studied immigration policy, McGovern said he agreed with their point.

“It’s really sad. Family should be able to stay together. When I think of America, I think of a place that should accept immigrants,” McGovern said. “We’re not living up to our values.”

Another group of students talked about climate change, urging McGovern to support sustainable energy initiatives on the national level.

Maya Starr Ward, 12, spoke about how her friend developed asthma from living in an apartment complex near a power plant. The group proposed that the government invest in clean, sustainable energy sources.

Slaughter, chairman of the Select Board, explained that Amherst is able to receive “green community” grants from the state for its commitment to sustainability. For example, there are four buildings in town that have been redesigned to produce zero carbon emissions and there is an Amherst school bus that runs entirely on electricity.

Zachary Dixon, 12, and Irvin Cruz Pineda, 11, presented on the topic of international aid, arguing that America should invest more money in organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the World Health Organization to provide health care to refugees and help provide poorer countries with sanitary living conditions and clean drinking water.

Another group of students proposed that their school lunches be more representative of the diverse cultures they come from. To illustrate this, a student brought in empanadas and posados that her Ecuadorean mother had made to share with the group.

Sahar Elkalai and Catie Spence, both 12, have made a proposal to revamp the MCAS, which they will present to state Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, I-Amherst, this Friday when he visits the school for another civic literacy session. The students, who have taken the standardized test for the past three years, have noticed some issues with it.

“Taking the test is stressful and the results don’t represent what you really know,” Elkalai said.

“Our proposal is to give students a choice to take a test or to do a project,” Spence said.

This would allow students who have test-taking anxiety to show what they have learned in a way that feels more manageable to them. The students said they are excited to share their idea with Goldstein-Rose.

Sixth-grade teacher Tim Austin started teaching this civic literacy unit at Fort River four years ago. He said the process of addressing a societal problem and brainstorming ideas on how to solve it has been beneficial for his students.

“The civic literacy unit gives students a chance not only to express themselves about the problems we face, but also to see themselves as an important part of the democratic process,” Austin said. “Even if they don’t all become activists, they come out of this unit with some of the skills it takes to be active, engaged citizens.”

The three visitors Wednesday encouraged the students to stay actively engaged in government.

“Now or in the future, if there are issues you care about, contact me. If you disagree with something I’m doing, contact me. I will leave my email with your teachers,” McGovern said. “I have great hope for the future, in large part because I’m meeting with people like you who are smart, curious and engaged.”