SOUTH PLAINFIELD – Senator Patrick Diegnan spoke at South Plainfield Middle School on Thursday October 19th as part of a “Back to School Program,” sponsored by The National Conference of State Legislatures to enhance the understanding of the legislature and civics among school children.
“I appreciate the opportunity to go to our great local schools and talk to students about the importance of learning about politics and government,” said Senator Diegnan. “which translates into making them better future informed voters and citizens.”
The Back to School Initiative is a bipartisan program sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures designed to educate students, the future voters and leaders of our country, about government. The South Plainfield Middle School students learned about state legislator, the processes of government and the importance of the Constitution of the United States of America.
“Encouraging the development of civic skills and attitudes among South Plainfield students is an important goal of education,” said Mr. Roger A. Vroom III, Principal of South Plainfield Middle School. “Our schools are best equipped to address the cognitive aspects of good citizenship — civic and political knowledge and skills such as critical thinking and deliberation that have real world benefits.”
The Senator also shared real examples of his own experiences over his career in politics. One child ask the Senator, “Which law did you pass that you were most proud of being a part of?”
“There was a young man in Edison Township,” replied Senator Diegnan before the large body of students who filled the school’s cafeteria. “The teen was an excellent athlete. He was running track and while he was running track he had a massive heart attack and died. His mom and grandma came to see me. And as a result of that, we did some research and found out that he suffered from a particular heart disease that affects athletes. I was able to pass a law that requires at all sporting events, that there be a device that can get your heart started and that kids would have to be screened for this disease before they were allowed to apply for athletics. I’ve been told that there have been fifteen kids whose lives have been changed because of that device.”
The 280 students of the Middle School’s Eighth Grade class came prepared with numerous questions about government and the making of laws including; “How long does it take to pass a law? Are there term limits in the Senate? Can I run for President? Were there any laws that you tried to get passed that didn’t get passed? What is the salary of the President of the United States? Why don’t the leaders of countries get along? What were you before you became a Senator? Do you think that marijuana will ever be legalized in New Jersey?”
“The purpose of the assembly was to introduce the students to the legislative process at the state level,” said History Teacher Joseph Blondo. “Eighth Grade students cover the U.S. Constitution and the structure of the Federal Government in great detail.”
"Anyone has the ability to say what they feel in the United States,” Eighth Grader Rebecca Ortiz said. “I think this assembly made people feel more capable of speaking their own opinion."
During his presentation, Senator Diegnan highlighted that every student in America should understand how democracy works and how it is imperative that educators, students, policymakers and members of civil society support civic education. The Senator urged the students to be aware of current events pertaining to politics and to get involved in government as they get older.
“We’re all in this together,” Senator Diegnan said to the students. “You have to get involved because if you aren’t involved, your kids are going to be sitting here some day and you’re going to say, ‘How the heck did that happen?’”
“In the future, we hope to invite either Mayor Anesh or a member of the Town Council to speak about the local government process,” added Blondo. “We teach the students to become active participants and to get involved as much as they can and this was a good opportunity for them to meet with a legislator. They enjoyed speaking with the Senator and asking questions.”
“It is crucial for the future health of our democracy that all young people are knowledgeable about their state and local governments,” concluded Senator Diegnan. “They have a greater impact over their day to day lives.”
"It's never to early to learn about politics and government,” added Ortiz. “The more we learn now, the more we will know what will happen in the future.”