Students at Mary Scroggs Elementary School fired a barrage of questions at a local senator Tuesday, on topics ranging from education and gun control to the environment and drug abuse.
Fourth- and fifth-graders at Scroggs attended a mock town meeting with Sen. Howard Lee, D-Orange, held as a chance to learn more about government.
"I hope they will gain a better understanding of the democratic process and how government officials speak for them," said fifth-grade teacher Beverly Schieman.
The students, who also are participating in an online mock election, said they were excited about the event and had prepared a variety of questions for Lee.
"I wanted to ask him a question about education because he said that parents would have to take responsibility for their kids if they misbehave in school," fifth-grader Hope Maxwell said. "So that's what I wanted to ask him about."
Some students said they wanted to learn more from Lee's expertise.
"I've been to Washington, so I want to know what a senator is like and stuff," said Andrew Bonds, a student in Schieman's fifth-grade class.
Fourth-grader Cory Trainor focused his question on teacher pay.
"How do you ensure that schools get the best teachers who are not just there for the money?" he asked.
Lee responded by saying he does not believe teachers can be paid enough to compete with private industry. But he said he feels they should be compensated enough so they do not feel they are taken advantage of.
Fifth-grader Abigail Owens asked about violence in the schools. "How do you plan to keep guns out of schools?" she asked.
Lee answered by encouraging students to speak up if they know of a fellow student carrying a gun to school.
Students also used the town meeting to form and express their own opinions on Lee.
"I hope to learn more about the senator," said Devon Glenn, a fifth-grader.
When asked if he would vote for Lee if he could, he said he was still not sure.
"I'm not sure because I have to listen to other senators," he said.
But fifth-grader Jonathan Wright had made up his mind.
"Yes, (I would vote for Lee)," he said. "I think he is a very responsible man."
Lee said he was more than happy to speak to the students. "What we have been doing is going around to schools and meeting with students," Lee said. "This has been a trend of mine when the legislature is not in session."
Lee said he feels talking with students is beneficial to both the students and to him. He explained how they helped him by sharing an anecdote of how the emergency alarm system came to exist in Chapel Hill.
Lee said that while speaking to a group of fourth-graders during his tenure as mayor of Chapel Hill, he was informed by a student that Chapel Hill did not have a fire alarm system. The student persuaded Lee to convince the Chapel Hill Town Council that it needed to spend $500,000 in the 1970s on a state-of-the-art emergency alarm system.
Fifth-grade teacher Phillip Thomas, who organized the meeting, said he felt the event was a success because he believes the issues discussed are now part of everyday conversation and not just the classroom.
"I would love to do this more often," he said. "The kids are much more in tune with the election."
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