Offering encouragement to students is something that happens every day in classrooms throughout the state.
When the encouragement and words of advice come from a former teacher and current member of the U.S. House of Representatives, the words may leave a lasting impression.
For some students at Lincoln R-II School the chance to hear and ask questions of Fourth District Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler provided such an opportunity.
“I want you all to know that you can truly make a difference in the lives of others,” Hartzler told the eighth grade class Thursday morning. “I grew up as a farm girl from Archie and I knew I always wanted to do something for God and for other people.
“When I was younger I would think about it and then forget it and go back to making my mud pies because after all I was a little girl,” Hartzler added. “When I was a student at MU I started to notice that many of the leaders on campus were people just like me; they were people from small schools.”
Hartzler asked the students if they had any explanations as to why that occurred.
After allowing the students time to think about her question, Hartzler explained that the reason was a simple one.
“Students like yourself have the ability to do several things and do them well at the same time,” Hartzler said. “Your experiences can take you a long way just as they have for me.”
As one of four planned visits to schools throughout her district Thursday, Hartzler wanted to not only encourage the students but she sought their input and wanted to inform them of recent legislation that would have a direct impact on their lives.
“Recently we passed a new education bill that replaces the No Child Left Behind legislation,” Hartzler told the students. “The ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) is a piece of legislation that I supported because it will take Washington, D.C., out of decisions regarding education and give them back to the state and local school districts who best know how to make the decisions concerning their students and schools.”
The legislation Hartzler explained would:
• Restore local and state control of testing and accountability allowing states to determine how and if the Common Core standards would be implemented.
• Return personnel decisions effecting teachers to local officials.
• Provide more flexibility in local funding, student support and academic grant programs.
“What the legislation truly does is it takes the strings out,” Hartzler said. “It allows the local schools to have more control in the decisions that affect all of you.”
Hartzler also told the students about legislation she has co-sponsored that, if passed, will also affect many students on a daily basis.
“I have co-sponsored a bill (HR 1504) that will change the mandates that are placed on the school lunch program,” Hartzler said. “Mrs. Obama had a good idea about the importance of good nutrition in schools but it has become a burden to schools to implement.”
Hartzler explained that under the current guidelines students are limited on what they can consume, especially the requirements for sodium and whole grains.
“Now we force you to take food even if you don’t want to eat it,” Hartzler said. “It’s currently a wasteful program and the new legislation will allow more flexibility in what the local districts can serve the students.”
Hartzler was met with smiles and cheers when Lincoln Principal Marc Spunaugle told the students if the legislation passed, they would no longer have to eat “brown” — also known as wheat — spaghetti any longer.
The School Lunch Affordability Act (HR 3307), also introduced by Hartzler, will allow control of local school lunch pricing to be given back to the school districts, if it is adopted by Congress.
Hartzler explained that under the current program districts have to increase the cost of school lunches to students even if their local districts are not losing money in their meal programs.
“It’s crazy because today, even if a district is running in the black, they are required to raise their meal prices to meet federal mandates,” Hartzler said. “It’s a wasteful system that needs to be changed.”
The congresswoman also spoke to the students about the dangers of the drug problem the youth of America are facing.
“I honestly want to hear your thoughts on the drug problem in our area and the country,” Hartzler said. “I want to know what you have to say because there is still a big drug problem in our country.
“I was at a recent job fair and I asked why there were so few people who were being hired in the area,” Hartzler added. “I was told that we have the jobs we just can’t find people who can pass the drug tests.”
The students and Hartzler spoke about the DARE program at Lincoln and other ways to prevent substance abuse touching on subjects from peer pressure and bullying to the role social media plays in a student’s life.
“I didn’t have the pressures that social media can play in your lives,” Hartzler said. “Bullying is such a destructive thing.
“It’s important for you to know that you have the choice to make the decisions on what can influence you,” she added. “Knowing that you can choose to do whatever you want to is a decision you can make now.”
Spunagle was pleased and extremely grateful to Hartzler for taking the time to come to Lincoln.
“She is a very busy lady,” Spunaugle said. “She represents close to 750,000 folks but we think it is important for our representatives and senators to know and see the good work we do firsthand.
“We need to be the ones to tell the story of our schools because we do a lot of good things here,” he added. “Nothing can replace that firsthand experience of actually being here and we are blessed to have her stop in.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484