Proving you’re never too young for your voice to be heard, Ms. McCarter’s 98 eighth-grade Citizens in Action students recently wrote letters to any elected official who represents them about any topic of their choosing, as long as it was a concern the official could address. Across the grade, around 20 elected officials were sent letters, including Governor Bill Lee, Mayor Andy Berke, Representative Chuck Fleischmann, and elected officials in nearby Georgia including Senator David Perdue.
“Some of the topics were about preventing or reversing pollution or other environmental issues,” says Jordan McCarter ’96. “Others wrote about solutions for homelessness, crime prevention, and what to do about the opioid crisis.”
While many of the girls have already received letters back from their representatives, three students were in for a special treat when their queries were answered in person.
Sasha Carbone, Isabella Jenkins, and Isabella Rands wrote to Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, who paid a visit to the entire eighth grade on Monday, April 29, to address their concerns in Caldwell Commons.
Sasha wrote her letter about children with special needs being integrated into traditional classrooms, Isabella Jenkins wrote about increasing teacher salaries, and Isabella Rands wrote about improving public schools.
While Mayor Coppinger did answer each question in general terms, he praised teachers specifically for their influence in students’ lives. “In my lifetime, besides my parents, those who have influenced me most are my teachers and coaches,” he said. “When you leave GPS, you will feel that way as well. I am a fan of paying our teachers well, and I don’t think we pay them enough but we’re going to try and do that.”
He urged the girls to become voting citizens one day soon and to be well-educated about those who represent them in government. “You should elect people who will spend your money well,” he said, adding that Hamilton County has a $754 million budget and elected officials represent more than 361,000 people.
“A few people can wield a lot of power and can also stop progress,” he added, after explaining the balance of power in Hamilton County, particularly the nine-member school board.
Mayor Coppinger ended his time with students by answering a question from the student audience. Belle Wallin asked the mayor what Hamilton County is doing about measures to protect the environment. He said they constantly monitor the air quality with EPA guidelines with the goal being to “provide good air quality 365 days a year.” There’s also an effort to encourage developers to build LEED-certified new construction. “We want to do anything we can to help the environment,” he added.
In closing, the students were left with a charge to never shy away from letting elected officials know their concerns. “It’s not a bother. It’s what your government is supposed to do,” he said. “We are so proud of our young people. You are the ones we point to as our future workforce. People are looking at you as the future of who will be running their companies 10 years from now.”
Perhaps adults should also be watching for our girls to run their own companies and not necessarily 10 years from now. Many of our mighty, brilliant, and determined students have already started business ventures through MBD: Girl Edition as early as sixth grade.
It’s classes such as Citizens in Action that give them the confidence to not only ask tough questions and expect honest answers, but also venture into the world of entrepreneurship at a young age. That’s also part of responsible citizenship.