DCD 8th graders had an opportunity to experience what it’s like to be a U.S. senator during their recent visit to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. Joining students from two other schools, they participated in The Senate Immersion Module which simulates the legislative process by which bills become laws and the president’s nominees for cabinet offices are confirmed.
Acting as US senators in a full-sized replica of the senate chamber, the 75 students in attendance negotiated and debated a comprehensive immigration reform bill. They broke up into committees for hearings and negotiation, and met as the full Senate for debate and voting. To prepare for the day, they studied background information about immigration law, as well as the role and requirements of a senator.
Upon taking their seats, students were given a tablet that identified them as a particular senator from a particular state, designated them as a Republican or a Democrat, and gave them some background on constituent, party, and senator views. Students would need to consider this information during the caucus and voting phase of the morning, learning how senators need to balance different perspectives with what they believe as individuals.
They then had the opportunity to move into smaller committee meetings to discuss and tackle specific issues related to immigration reform legislation. Through this process, they learned about how senators create alliances and use the filibuster. Finally reconvening as a full senate, the students shared written statements developed by the individual committee groups before the full vote was taken.
Two DCD students, Emma McNealy and Ben Clay, spoke during the general session for and against one of the proposed amendments to the legislation. Going beyond the classroom experience through this activity brought the students’ Civic Unit in U.S. History to life as they negotiated and debated a very timely issue.