Langley Middle School students mail letters to President Obama

Students in Rachel Kizer’s seventh-grade social studies class wrote letters to President Barack Obama after the inauguration. These students, clockwise from top left, are Fiona Roberts, Lila Stach, Joe Davies, Alex Low and Andrew Baesler.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Students in Rachel Kizer’s seventh-grade social studies class wrote letters to President Barack Obama after the inauguration. These students, clockwise from top left, are Fiona Roberts, Lila Stach, Joe Davies, Alex Low and Andrew Baesler.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Banning guns, allowing same-sex marriage, protecting the environment, drilling for domestic oil and walling out immigrants were all on the minds of seventh graders.

Students in Rachel Kizer’s social studies/language arts class wrote letters to President Barack Obama after his inauguration in late January. The assignment was to tell Mr. Obama their hopes and dreams for the future of America and include issues that mattered to the students.

“It’s important what our input is because we’re going to be the future of this country,” said student Fiona Roberts.

The letters are one of those multi-faceted lessons that teachers love. Related to language arts, the process reinforces writing skills and introduces a new type of writing (it was a formal letter, after all). As for social studies, it builds an identity as a citizen, informs students of national issues and gets them thinking about something beyond themselves.

“It’s developing citizenship,” Kizer said.

“That’s the best part of seventh graders, they’re moving away from themselves and gaining a world view.”

And what world view they have. A selection of five letters — out of 22 — spans the current events gamut. Students wrote about gun control, marriage equality, employment, Afghanistan, the cost of education and immigration. These students are between 12 and 13 years old. 

With the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School still on their minds, two students held opposing views of gun safety. Andrew Baesler, 12, expressed his concern with restricting guns, which would take them away from “the good guys.”

“If the person has a gun, the only thing that will stop him is a good guy with a gun,” said Andrew of a hypothetical home invasion. “If they banned guns like that, you’d be defenseless.”

Having fired pistols and rifles with family, firearms did not intimidate Andrew. And he wrote his letter in response to what he heard in the news about Congress looking at new gun regulation.

“Even if we ban guns, there will be someone who really wants one can get one.”

As Andrew shared his opinion with the other students, they began to fidget and whisper to each other until finally one asked, “Can we debate him?”

There, in that moment, Kizer’s aim to teach a civics lesson was apparent. These kids, most not even teenagers, were ready to argue for and against hot-topic issues.

Opposing Andrew’s view was Alex Low, who shared his parent’s wish to, “outlaw guns in America.”

“I think the people who say, ‘it’s not the gun it’s the person,’ is ridiculous,” Alex wrote. “We are one of the only countries where citizens are allowed to have firearms and I think you should do something to restrict that. The catastrophes in America are getting worse. I think you are the president who will help this issue.”

And though Andrew backed away from his emphatic writings during an interview, he maintained that, “They have to do something.”

Fiona asked Mr. Obama to support marriage rights for homosexuals, as was approved in Washington. In the letter, she wrote, “I believe that marriage is a wonderful thing and should be treated as so even if it is between a man and a man. If they love each other than it should be celebrated, not discouraged.”

The letter had a personal angle for Fiona, who has a relative who was recently able to marry because of the marriage equality law in Washington.

“If the law hadn’t been changed, he would’ve had to go to Spain,” Fiona said.

Looking ahead, Lila Stach wanted college tuition to be lower. Lila, 13, had designs to be a restaurant owner some day, and even picked the location — the dilapidated seafood shack in Freeland next to the shuttered Gay ’90s. Her passions are mostly in baking and she’d like to open her shop named Pastry Passions, and she wants to attend a culinary arts school. A bachelor’s of science in culinary arts management costs about $140,000 for tuition, room and board, books and other fees at the Art Institute of Seattle.

“I don’t understand the point of having to pay so much to get more education,” Lila lamented. “It’s a big part of people’s lives.”

In her letter Lila suggested supplementing the cost of college tuition for students because, “then more people will be able to go to college and therefore more people will be able to get better jobs,”

Then there was Joe “Happy Joe Lucky” Davies, who was not concerned with plights like war, famine or disease. No, Joe wanted to see more interesting architecture in big cities. He was frustrated by the lone man-made landmark in Seattle (the Space Needle), and wanted the president to encourage “cool looking” buildings to attract people to the United States.

Not all was skyscrapers and design for Joe. He slipped in a plug to protect the environment by enforcing a lower building-to-park ratio, especially in New York City, where Joe wrote, “there’s hardly any grass or trees so, I would like it if you could plant some there.”

Kizer graded the letters for conventions, but did not alter the iPad-typed notes before sending them to the White House.

“It needed to have their voice,” Kizer said.

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