As part of her initiative to engage and educate students across the Merrimack Valley about the democratic process, State Rep. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) visited Haverhill’s Hunking Middle School on Friday, October 4, marking her first stop on a Civic Education Tour.
Invited to the event, held in the school’s gymnasium, was Hunking’s eighth grade class. The program covered the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and, through interactive exercises, was designed to educate students about what it means to be a citizen and how to participate in the democratic process. During the event, students had the opportunity to partake in mock legislative and judicial hearings, the latter conducted by Michael J. Ryan of the Office of Jury Commissioner for the Commonwealth.
“I was delighted and honored to be among so many smart and talented Hunking students as I delivered a presentation on how ideas become laws and engaged the students in an interactive mock committee hearing,” said DiZoglio, who has sponsored legislation to establish a comprehensive student civic education program. “I look forward to visiting other schools across the district in the months to discuss the legislative process.”
"In a time with an ever-growing cynicism about government, this was a great opportunity for the students to learn that, at its core, our government is still for the people and by the people,” said Jared Fulgoni, principal at Hunking Middle School. “One of our greatest charges as both a school and as a society is to educate our young citizens to be able to sustain our democracy. The students got to not only learn about government but actually got to participate in it and experience it in action.”
“Rep. DiZoglio gave us a lot of information,” said Iyana White, an eighth-grade Hunking student who portrayed the committee chairwoman in the mock legislative hearing. “Rep. DiZoglio and Mike Ryan were really cool. They were like regular people. I had never met a state politician before.”
“It was a very creative way of learning,” said Ryan Garrett, an eighth-grade Hunking student. “It wasn't just ‘facts,’ I actually had to do it myself. My friends were the lawyers, jurors and witnesses and it was really fun to learn about the judiciary courts this way.”
“I liked the displays that Mr. Ryan had,” said Jared DiBella, an eighth-grade Hunking student. “He made it really fun. Rep. DiZoglio gave us some booklets and information and really wanted us to contact her with our questions. She made us feel like we really are an important part of the democratic process.”
“In class, learning about the three branches of government can be kind of boring, but this was interactive and helped us to really understand it,” said Vincente Nolet, an eighth-grade Hunking student. “The government may be shutdown in Washington, but today in Haverhill it was alive and kicking!"
In many of today’s high schools, civic leaning is often only offered at the end of a student’s studies, in twelfth grade. On the most recent national civics assessment, administered in 2006 by the National Assessment Governing Board, two-thirds of students scored below “proficient.” In 2010, more than a quarter of college students reported they did not register to vote because they did not know where or how to do so.
“All too often, our classrooms lack a strong civic education program to inform students about what our state government has to do with our daily lives,” said DiZoglio. “It is so important that youth begin to genuinely grasp these basic concepts to ensure that they are able to actively participate and engage in the process as they are entering into adulthood."
“It is critical for students to have an understanding of our judicial system early on, given they should be prepared to serve jury duty as soon as high school,” said Ryan.
The next stop on the DiZoglio’s Civic Education Tour will be Methuen High School on Friday, October 18. The Representative is in talks with Lawrence and North Andover schools to also hold Civic Education Days in those locations.