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June 2, 2017

Littleton, Stoneham High School students debate immigration reform at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute as Senators for a day

Students participated in a hands-on legislative program and discussed civic engagement

BOSTON – The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate welcomed more than 70 sophomores and juniors from Littleton and Stoneham High Schools on Friday for a 2.5 hour immersive, educational program on the workings of the Senate. Using high-touch technology on tablets provided by the Institute, students took on the role of U.S. Senators and worked together to build and pass a bill calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

The Senate Immersion Module program (SIM) provides an in-depth opportunity for students to engage in the legislative process. Students participate in hearings, committee mark-ups, and floor debates that culminate in a final vote on legislation inside the Institute’s full-scale replica U.S Senate Chamber. Since opening in March of 2015, the Institute has hosted more than 33,000 students from across the Commonwealth and the nation to take on both historic and current issues, from the Compromise of 1850 to the PATRIOT Act.

Teachers in attendance discussed how the SIM experience works into how they teach lessons on history and civics in their classrooms.

“We spend six to eight weeks on the Constitution and at the end of that, they have to come up with their own 21st Century amendments to the Constitution,” said Susan Harvey, one of the teachers leading the Littleton visit. “They have to work in Senate committees, so this was not far off. They’re very excited to be here and being senators for the day. It is a marvelous experience and everybody should do it.”

“I feel like we really work on perspective taking and on trying to understand different viewpoints in class,” said Jon Pohorilak, a Stoneham High School teacher. “And to see this in action and have it all laid out in a simple, fun, engaging manner is great. The people leading the sessions were amazing and left the students excited.”

The Institute’s Senate Immersion Module is offered at no cost to Massachusetts student groups, and is compatible with Common Core curriculum. Specifically, the SIM provides corresponding pre- and post-lesson plans that meet Literacy Standards as well as Massachusetts Social Science and History Standards.

“Through the SIM, students from schools like Littleton and Stoneham learn how to navigate controversial issues through finding common ground with those they disagree with, empathizing, and advocating for what they believe,” said Jean MacCormack, President of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. “The Institute’s 2017 Civics Survey revealed that Americans’ knowledge about how our government works is incredibly low. Civic education needs to be a priority in order to prepare the next generation of leaders to participate in our democracy.

At the completion of the program, the student-Senators from Littleton and Stoneham High Schools narrowly voted 39-35 in favor of passing comprehensive immigration reform.

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