Last week, I had the incredible privilege of hosting Representative Jonathan Larkin (District 30) at my school for the first annual Take Your Legislator to School Day (TYLTS). TYLTS Day originated under the leadership of Bobbie O’Boyle (Arizona Education Foundation) in partnership with Arizona K12 Center, Arizona Education Association, and Rodel Foundation of Arizona. The mission of TYLTS Day is to nurture partnerships between Arizona teachers and Arizona legislators to collaboratively seek positive outcomes for children in our local schools. The experienced positively influenced my ideas about building partnerships, and I look forward to sharing some ideas here.
When I received an email asking me to reach out and invite Representative Jonathan Larkin to my school, I was really excited. A quick web search showed that Representative Larkin has a heart for public service and a commitment to public schools. I realized that a HERO was coming to our campus! I awaited the event with great anticipation, and Thursday was no disappointment.
During his visit, Representative Larkin toured the school, spent time in my preschool special education classroom, met with families, and spoke to our 8th grade students about serving others and making good choices in life. I was inspired. He was so authentic and interested in what we are doing at my school. For someone with such a busy schedule, I was amazed when he passed out business cards to teachers, reminded them that he lives right up the street, and offered to come back anytime as a classroom speaker. As a teacher, I had never personally thought of reaching out to a legislator in this way. The experience taught me to reconsider the importance of extending invitations to community leaders. What a wonderful way to work together for kids.
At the end of his visit, we had a great chat about the importance of public education and the partnership between schools and legislators. Representative Larkin offered advice to increase opportunities for collaboration. He suggested that local schools from his district could send him an annual calendar of important events like school board meetings, family outreach events, school plays, concerts, and sporting events. He said that he would like to attend more events if he had more information. I was really amazed by his interest in our school calendar. Representative Larkin said, “Anything that is important to you is important to us.” As a teacher, sharing a calendar is another way I can build partnerships.
Additionally, Representative Larkin shared a desire to help connect schools with local businesses. He explained that businesses ask for ideas about the needs of the community, so it really helps when schools let him know their needs in case opportunities arise. This got me thinking: What wonderful projects could I think of for my campus? How could contacting my local legislator bring resources to my school? Representative Larkin explained, “Companies are willing to do stuff like that…you just have to see where your resources are.” I will definitely think of contacting my local legislators next time I have a project in need of resources. Legislators can be a great bridge between schools and local businesses.
I asked Representative Larkin, “How can teachers make a positive difference in politics?” He pondered that question carefully and responded with great insight. He explained his view that teachers have a very important role to educate students in America about the importance of voting. He explained that kids need to know what their vote means. Though students seem young today, today’s students are tomorrow’s voters. Representative Larkin’s comments really reframed the importance of teachers in a different light. I reflected on my experiences learning about voting in school. I had great teachers who crafted opportunities for me to learn about voting, the legislative process, and real-life (practice) voting with “Kids Vote.” I am so grateful for people in my life that developed my commitment to vote. Teachers really do pass on the ideals of democracy. What an important role.
Finally, I asked, “How can teachers make a difference in policy?” Representative Larkin offered some advice to teachers and organizations that utilize chain mail about important issues. He shared that these letters are most effective when they are in the right format and appear personal. Here is some specific advice about chain letters: (1) Make sure your letter has a recent date. (2) Personalize the letter with your name and address instead of using terms like “your constituent.” (3) Include links and information in the letter where legislators can find out more about the issue. Further, he shared that splash pages with limited info are not very effective. Links are more meaningful when they are connected to real organizations. (4) Share how the issue affects you personally. Overall, he said that chain letters can be an effective way to mass communicate about an issue when many people are concerned. However, he added that legislators tend to overlook letters when they are not personalized.
When I asked Representative Larkin about the highlight of his visit, he shared that he really enjoyed the opportunity to talk with our 8th graders and have a positive influence on youth. He said, “When you look back on life, those are the moments that really stand out.” As a teacher, I completely agree. We have a huge influence on the youth of America. Thank you Representative Larkin for having a great influence on me. I greatly appreciate your visit to our school and your ongoing commitment to education.