Norwood-Fontbonne Academy’s fourth grade recently traveled to Harrisburg to tour the Pennsylvania State Capitol building, Governor’s Mansion, and other points of interest. This very exciting trip was the culmination of a yearlong project—part of the school’s Signature curriculum—that started last October, when each student in the fourth grade wrote letters to their state representatives.
“Many of the students were not even aware of who their respective representatives were—and some had never written a formal letter!—so it was an important first step,” said social studies teacher Marc Alfarano.
The several responses the class received, including a unique opportunity for a live chat session via FaceTime with Rep. Brendan Boyle during the winter, further kindled the students’ interest in learning more about these elected officials and how they serve the communities in which we live and how our state government operates.
During the trip, by special invitation, the class gathered on the floor of the grandiose Pennsylvania House of Representatives at 10:30 am, in order to meet with some of their district leaders prior to the start of the session. Some of the representatives arrived early to chat with the students, including Rep. Kate Harper of the 61st Legislative District.
“Do you enjoy making laws for our state?” asked a curious student, to which Rep. Harper replied, “Of course!” and addressing all of the young NFA women, “I hope you are thinking of a career in politics—we need more female representatives.”
Over the course of the students’ visit at the Capitol, nine of their state representatives took time out of their busy schedules to offer additional nuggets of knowledge, encouragement, and inspiration. The students, faculty, and parents who joined the trip were very grateful to witness such great demonstrations of civil service and engagement.
It was an especially exhilarating experience to remain on the House floor as other lawmakers began to file into the room and the session was called to order with great pomp and circumstance.
“I would like to officially recognize the fourth grade class of Norwood-Fontbonne Academy and welcome them to Harrisburg and this chamber,” announced Pennsylvania House speaker, Rep. Sam Smith at the start of the session.
Afterward, the group left the House of Representatives to tour various other parts of the State House, including a walk-through of the Lt. Governor’s office and the offices of other representatives. Fourth grader Owen Valinis (Chestnut Hill) spent time with Rep. Dwight Evans and got to personally tour the representative’s office including a private meeting and a “photo shoot.” The students concluded their tour in the Capitol Visitor’s Center, where they learned more about how a bill becomes a law.
The class then boarded the bus and traveled 15 minutes to the official Pennsylvania Governor’s Mansion along the Susquehanna River. Docents gave a detailed tour of the executive residence, which the students really enjoyed. Once all questions were answered, the class ran back to the bus through the rain for the return trip to Norwood-Fontbonne Academy. While the trip may have been over, the impressions made on the fourth grade students about the importance of being informed and active participants in their system of government will last a lifetime!