Dear Mr. Boehner and Sen. Warren ...
Bement students call on federal leaders to open government
DEERFIELD — The federal government shutdown is a letdown for Bement School students.
Every year, the eighth-grade history class at The Bement School visits Gettysburg, Pa., for three days, touring the battlefield of the defining battle of the Civil War.
The annual field trip on Oct. 23 to Oct. 25 is the culmination of weeks of study on the Civil War.
But after looking forward to the trip, this year’s 38 eighth-graders found their Gettysburg experience would be different from that of previous classes.
On Oct. 1, the federal government shut down after the Congress and President Barack Obama failed to reach an agreement on how to fund the government. Affected federal agencies include the National Park Service, which closed the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Unlike in past years, it appears the Bement students won’t be able to visit the Soldiers’ National Cemetery or see the battlefield. Students had prepared to reenact Picket’s Charge, the last and losing assault by the Southern forces on the Union Army during the three-day battle.
Meanwhile, the 13- to 14-year-olds have taken action.
Last Thursday, students discussed how the government shutdown happened, what both Republicans and Democrats argued and how it impacted the public. Katrina Spicer-Lindquist, chairwoman of the history department and one of two history teachers, was able to link the discussion to the Civil War and arguments behind the 1861 split of the country.
Students asked what they could do to help and so Spicer-Lindquist logged on to USA.gov on the classroom computer and found House Speaker John Boehner’s and Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s contact information. The students decided to call and the class brainstormed what they would tell the speaker and senator.
“Everyone was so focused. It was amazing,” said Gemma Borra Paley, a student.
“It was the whole class thinking. Everyone wrote on the board. Everyone had a little part,” said student Gabrielle Cator.
After retrieving their cell phones from their backpacks, students waited on their phones for more than an hour. Cator and Borra Paley were able to leave messages with Boehner’s and Warren’s offices.
“We wanted to say how we were feeling about not going to Gettysburg and how it affected the country and kids as a generation,” Borra Paley said.
“We want to have the same experience they had. We want to experience and be in the spots where history happened,” Cator said. “If the government is shut down, we feel our education won’t be as fulfilled as it could be.”
The students still plan to climb aboard a Greyhound bus and trek to Pennsylvania for three days to make the most of their experience.
The Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center, run by the Gettysburg Foundation, a private organization, remains open. Students plan to see the museum, film and Cyclorama painting.
They also plan to do a walking tour of the Gettysburg center.
“We’ll do more of those things to give our students a sense of what it was like to be in Gettysburg,” Spicer-Linquist said.
Though students may not see the Gettysburg battlefield, Spicer-Lindquist believes her students have learned something worthwhile.
For the first time, students realized they could have an impact on the government.
“We can do something to make a difference,” Borra Paley said. “I never noticed we could make a difference. We can actually call up and speak.”
“Most of us didn’t think we could be involved,” Cator said. “This made me realize anything is possible. I felt great.”
So far, the students haven’t heard back from Boehner or Warren, but they are hopeful.
“If we got a response, what we’re feeling now is even stronger,” said Cator. “We actually did have a part in the government.”
You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.