by Michelle Sonsino
Germantown Friends School students had the unique opportunity to gain insight about gerrymandering directly from the legal and advocacy experts who brought the lawsuit against the proposed Pennsylvania congressional map, Mimi McKenzie, legal director, and Michael Churchill, of counsel, both from the Public Interest Law Center.
Gerrymandering is top of mind for lawmakers, advocates, and even youth because of its strong impact on equitable elections, and economic and social policy outcomes. Students at GFS wanted to learn more in order to effectively take action and worked with the school administration to develop an interactive workshop on the topic as part of its monthly CoLab program.
McKenzie, a GFS parent and member of the School Committee, and Churchill, a GFS alum, introduced the legal and economic ramifications of gerrymandering and reviewed the status of their lawsuit against the State of Pennsylvania. Students learned about the history and intent of gerrymandering, the process of packing and cracking voters, the mathematical and statistical repercussions, and what students can do to change this divisive practice.
“Students want to live in a country where the voting system is fair, and more than anyone, they understand fairness,” Churchill said. “It was an honor for us to come and speak to the students today and help them become educated voters and demand democracy.”
After McKenzie and Churchill spoke, students participated in a comprehensive Q&A, discussing details including the technology needed to gerrymander, the importance of transparency in government, and ways students can advocate even before they can vote, including contacting legislators, writing to newspapers, and joining coalitions such as Fair Districts PA.
“This CoLab featured a new topic for me with a lot of good information,” said Rich Soong, a 9th grade student. “I’m glad to be aware of this issue as I become a voter.”
Carol Rawlings Miller, director of academic program at GFS, added, “This event not only provided a strong foundation for our students to understand gerrymandering, but also gave them a hopeful sign that our system still has resiliency and the potential for change and correction.”
GFS’s CoLab program brings together diverse members of the school community each month to teach and learn from one another. This extended class period offers the chance to take a deep-dive on a timely subject, and topics are chosen by both students and faculty. The CoLab program reflects GFS’s commitment to equipping students to become responsible, informed citizens with a developed sense of agency to affect positive change.
Michelle Sonsino is a communications and media specialist at Germantown Friends School