CONGRESSWOMAN JAHANA HAYES AT RUMSEY HALL SCHOOL
Democracy in Action: The Power of Student Voices to Impact the Future
WASHINGTON, CT, April 2021—Young voices are powerful, even in the expansive, fast-paced realm of national legislation. Middle School students at Rumsey Hall School recently experienced the strength of their words when Congresswoman Jahana Hayes joined their history class.
A few months ago, history teacher Christian Anderson created a lesson to awaken students to the influence they can have on their government. “I wanted students to know that their representatives are accessible,” Mr. Anderson explained. “It’s important for them to experience their personal role in enacting change. That’s memorable ...when their viewpoints, emotions, and dreams can be part of the lesson.”
First, Mr. Anderson’s classes studied Articles 1-3 of our Constitution and each student identified an issue of personal concern. Then, they penned letters to Congresswoman Hayes that conveyed their thoughts and feelings on topics including climate change, LGBTQA+ rights, minimum wage, homelessness, and equal education. Finally, the letters were mailed to Congresswoman Hayes's office in Washington, DC.
The lesson didn’t end there. An open dialogue between the students and their congressional representative developed. Several students received letters back from Congresswoman Hayes, and the congressional district’s office contacted Mr. Anderson to learn more about the experiential lesson. Ultimately, the entire class witnessed how one simple action can achieve results when Congresswoman Hayes personally addressed their questions.
“What I do as your government representative affects you,” Congresswoman Hayes stated. “Every decision I make—from air quality to equitable education to our economy— can impact you. That’s why it’s critical that your voices are part of the decision-making process.”
As an educator and recipient of the Connecticut Teacher of the Year and the 2016 National Teacher of the Year distinction in 2016, returning to the classroom stirred up nostalgic sentiments from Congresswoman Hayes. “I’m jealous of your teacher,” she said, expressing her enthusiasm at being immersed in the vibrant learning space. She commended the class, saying, “As a country, we’re so impressed by the depth and breadth of knowledge you bring to these topics. I’m happy that at your age, you're thinking about what you can do to impact the future.”
In her heartfelt letter, Vth Form student Kate Blaicher asked how our government is addressing the issue of homelessness. Congresswoman Hayes described her childhood eviction experience and subsequent crowded living arrangement. She expounded on how her team is tackling homelessness during the pandemic-fractured era. For instance, the Public Health Emergency Act, Coronavirus Homeless Improvement Act, the American Rescue Plan, the Care Act (provides hotel rooms for homeless populations), and the Human Rights Act (identifies discrimination as the root of the issue) are a few initiatives that help citizens access tools to get back on their feet.
“People, like homeless veterans, need help.” Kate explained. “When Congresswoman Hayes answered my question with facts on what they’re already doing, it made me feel important and gave me hope.”
Congresswoman Hayes encouraged the students to research more about the cycle of homelessness and to keep contacting their government representatives. “Legislative priorities are decided by the people who are at the table,” she pointed out, “so, representatives who believe there is value in dignity will legislate accordingly.”
"Some things I learned from the event are about some of the acts put in place for different groups of people—LGBTQ members, African Americans, Jewish Americans, etc." said Vth Form student Vivian Eannacony. "I had no idea that those are what are protecting those citizens."
Congresswoman Hayes challenged the students to stay engaged, stay connected, and to keep fighting for the things they care about. “Don’t only ask the questions,” she stated. “But also, hold your legislators accountable. One day you will be leaders.”
Now that Mr. Anderson’s students know that their voices are heard, appreciated, and treasured by their congressional representative, they intend to pursue more opportunities to be heard in this world.
“You’re fantastic,” Mr. Anderson told his students before dismissing them. “And, don’t forget ...this is just the beginning.”
Rumsey Hall is a coeducational boarding and day school for students in kindergarten through grade 9. The school was founded in 1900 by Lillias Rumsey Sanford of Seneca Falls, New York and moved to the current Washington campus in 1949.
Rumsey Hall School is located at 201 Romford Road in Washington Depot. For information about Rumsey Hall, visit rumseyhall.org.