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Politicians head back to school
Standing in front of a classroom full of eighth-graders, state Rep. Alex Atwood felt right at home at Risley Middle School Thursday.

Between answering the students' questions and posing some of his own, he was clearly in his element.

"I used to teach constitutional law, and I miss it," said Atwood, R-St. Simons Island. "If I could do it over, I'd probably be a history teacher."

Atwood was one of 12 speakers during the Government Day observance at the school. Others included Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering, state Sen. Bill Ligon, R-St. Simons Island, and Brunswick Mayor Bryan Thompson.

The eighth-graders recently finished a unit learning about the different levels of government, making Thursday an ideal time to put a name and face to each branch.

Atwood was more than happy to oblige.

"It's important for government officials to come speak to students for two reasons: one, the founding fathers were very clear for us that to maintain our freedom, the people need to be moral, and two, they need to be educated," he said. "It's important for these students to understand at this age that we work for them and that we represent them. They need to learn how their government works and why it's important to stay engaged."

Atwood stressed the importance of an education. Among other things, it helps citizens hold their representatives accountable on various issues, he said.

Atwood was impressed by the students, asking them questions after answering theirs.

"Whatever they're doing here, they're doing it right," he said. "I see plenty of adults that can't answer my questions and this will help us in the future.

"It's a much overused term, but it's true - these kids are our future."

That was the idea Ellen Provenzano, eighth-grade teacher, had in mind when she began arranging the event. Gathering members from different branches and at various levels would allow students to better understand what she had been teaching, she said.

"Most of the students don't have a real concrete idea of what the government does, what each part's function is," Provenzano said. "We thought it would be more useful that instead of reading it out of a book, for them to actually talk to the people who do the jobs, ask them questions about what they do, what the function of their position is, and just find out what their goals are."

Knowing that her students will be future voters, Provenzano wanted them to understand what the mayor and city council members do versus what their representatives and senators do.

The students also used current events to relate to the various guests.

"We had them come up with questions and read the newspaper to look at current events to base those questions on. It helps them put the whole picture together," Provenzano said. "Me talking about the process of getting a bill through is totally different compared to Rep. Atwood explaining to them a bill he personally worked on."

Students were thrilled with the opportunity to ask their own questions, like Jaiden Carroll, age 13. "It's an exciting opportunity and a good experience because they're also teaching us stuff," she said. "It'll help us when we start as ninth-graders next year to have all of these interesting facts.

"We've seen senators, commissioners, representatives and I've learned so much. They've opened up a new world to us."

* Reporter Sarah Lundgren writes about education and other local topics. Contact her at, or at 265-8320, ext. 322.

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