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Live, on C-SPAN, it’s Stuarts Draft High School

Story by Chris Graham

cspan1.gifHurry up and wait. That’s life on TV.

Students in two AP government classes at Stuarts Draft High School know that all too well.

“It was exciting. National television, that was pretty cool. But it was nervewracking at the same time,” said Akash Patel, a senior at SDHS, a few minutes after his question about drivers licenses for illegal immigrants was asked over the air on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” this morning.

Eight students in two AP government classes were selected to participate in a live question-and-answer session with “Washington Journal” guests Mark Krikorian from the Center for Immigration Studies and Laura Reiff from the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition.

The opportunity was arranged by the local Comcast Cable office in conjunction with the C-SPAN Campaign 2008 Bus tour of Central Virginia. The school was contacted a few weeks ago about the tour-bus visit to the area, according to AP government teacher Jonathan Kern.

It was only in recent days that the classes learned that they would be asked to take part in the live Q-and-A on “Washington Journal,” though.

cspan4.gif“Every time that we can get a chance for kids to get out of a bubble, get out of the same old, same old, and get a chance to experience something a little different – you just never, never know one of those kids coming out of this and then deciding that they want to be a political commentator,” Kern said.

“There’s only so much in the classroom that we can keep doing, so when there’s a chance that we can get them out of the classroom and do something different, it’s fantastic,” Kern said.

“I’m not pretending that the kids in the government class, all 19 of them, are going to march off to the Senate tomorrow. But the skills we’re trying to teach them – research, discriminate information, and sometimes just plain have to do it pretty darn fast – this is a perfect example of it. All right, kids, we have discussed issues of immigration, you understand balance of powers and laws and state rights, federalism, and who’s responsible. Now, apply it to this question. By the way, you’ve got three hours to figure it out,” Kern said.

cspan3.gif“I wish we could do this kind of stuff a lot more frequently, because it’s teaching them to think on their feet, which is what they need to be able to do,” Kern said.

Patel, who wants to study pre-veterinary medicine at Virginia Tech beginning next fall, had to do some quick thinking on his feet. His question about drivers licenses wasn’t his first choice.

“I was thinking about asking about which of the three presidential candidates would you have thought was better for immigration policy. But I kind of keyed off of that, somebody else was going to ask that,” Patel said.

Patel wasn’t the only student with a live line into “Washington Journal” who was wracked with nerves, either.

“I was a little nervous at first, because I didn’t really know what to expect. And I was kind of worried that my question wouldn’t be intelligent enough for them. But once I got into it and got started, it seemed like they liked my question, and it was actually kind of fun,” said Rachel Maki, a senior who wants to study physical therapy at the University of Virginia beginning in the fall.

Maki’s question put Krikorian on the spot regarding comments that he had made in a recent magazine article about Republican Party presidential candidate John McCain’s stance on immigration.

“It’s kind of unreal, actually. I didn’t really realize it was going to be this big of a deal. I knew that it was going to be a big deal, but I didn’t realize my voice was going to be on national television, and that my question would cause a debate,” Maki said.
“I signed up because I wanted to take an AP class. I didn’t really know a lot about government, but as the year has gone on, I’ve learned a lot. And it’s actually kind of interesting. And it’s kind of nice to have a question answered that I have, that I’ve been thinking about for a while,” Maki said.


Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.

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