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Student lobbyists to take on lawmakers

Monday, October 19, 2009  
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By Betsy Lopez Fritscher
Posted Oct 19, 2009 @ 11:56 PM
Last update Oct 20, 2009 @ 10:39 AM

BELVIDERE — St. James School student Adam Hagedorn wants to get his words just right when he stands before area senators and representatives next week in Springfield.

The sixth-grader will travel to the state capital Oct. 29 with his social studies teacher Stephanie Sharpe, Sharpe’s mother and Rockford College psychology professor Elaine Sharpe, college students and 36 of his schoolmates to lobby for social issues during the state’s fall veto session.

Topics to be lobbied for or against include virtual online schools, four-day school weeks, seat belts on buses and required education for those convicted of gang-related activities.

Hagedorn’s older sister, Lauren, 13, is fascinated by the process of going before lawmakers.

“I’m looking forward to making sure there aren’t seat belts on school buses,” the eighth-grader said. “They’re dangerous.

“Depending on the seat belt, it can cause internal damage to your pelvic area, and if the bus flips over, you’ll be hanging there or get a concussion.”

The students will leave Belvidere in the early morning hours Oct. 29 and return that night after their meetings and a tour of the Capitol.

Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, sees the initiative of promoting early involvement in government as a plus for students and their communities. He will be one of a handful of area political leaders the students are hoping to speak with.

“What’s good about it is you have a chance to explain the pros and cons of what their issue is, and they can go back and do their homework on it,” he said.

“On the surface, a lot of issues sound good; that’s the way it is with the general public until they realize there’s something more to it they didn’t think about. I enjoy having them come down to talk about issues.”

Elaine Sharpe believes teaming her college students up with the kids her daughter teaches gives both sets of students new perspectives. The mother-daughter team began linking their classrooms in 2006. The college course studies adolescent development while the youth learn about politics in social studies.

“They are learning how a bill becomes a law firsthand,” Elaine Sharpe said. “This is one of the very formative windows to teach young people they have a voice.

“Once they realize lobbying works, they get the bug. They’re empowering our legislators to have current information and find they have a voice and civic responsibility.”

Stephanie Sharpe is nervous and excited for her students as they discover the power of their voices and the urgency of getting involved. Sharpe has felt more like a musical conductor, making sure all roles are covered and not a single note goes unplayed.

“It is definitely crazy to orchestrate this and make sure it’s not only a learning experience but it’s something they’re passionate about.”

Reach staff writer Betsy López Fritscher at or 815-987-1377.

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