A Powerful and Intimate Conversation Between ISB 5th Graders and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez
Each year, as part of the Civic Symbols and Constitutions unit of inquiry, the 5th Grade class sets off to Washington, D.C. to further understand how our the Constitution and other political documents are used to govern the country, and to explore the ways that monuments and civic symbols express the common values of our society. While field trips have been put on pause during the pandemic, the class has been enjoying virtual field trips and meetings with special visitors as they learn more about the United States government. Last week, the 5th Graders were very fortunate to have a virtual visit from Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, New York’s 7th congressional district representative, which includes their own school community in Carroll Gardens as well as several other surrounding Brooklyn neighborhoods.
In this tumultuous and historic year in American politics, we have seen our students take a particular interest in how their government works. The lines of inquiry and learning experiences from the 5th Grade unit on Civic Symbols and Constitutions aim to help empower students to become principled and caring citizens and leaders who feel empowered to use their voice and take action to speak out against injustices and make a positive difference in their communities, their country, and the world at large. Hearing firsthand from Congresswoman Velázquez about her experiences working on issues in the community which affect them and their neighbors and gave our students clearer insight into how the government works.
The 5th Grade classes had prepared many questions for Representative Velázquez about her work. The students from the Spanish track were especially excited to ask their questions and converse with Representative Velázquez in Spanish and then translate her answers for the French group. The students were very eager to hear about how Covid-19 has impacted her work, how she helps provide relief to small businesses, and how she combats climate change in her role.
Representative Velázquez also discussed how she advocates for women and people of color in her role and explained how she uses the power of her office to address inequities in our country and represent the voices of Black and Brown citizens in the legislative process. Representative Velázquez is the first Puerto Rican woman to serve in the United States Congress, and she emphasized to the students why representation in government matters and how she recognizes she has a big role in inspiring others to aim high. She also discussed the importance of representation in curriculum, addressing the necessity of designing and teaching curriculum that reflects the diversity of the community and the country. She cited the underrepresentation of Puerto Ricans in the US school curriculum, and called for an educational curriculum that teaches not only about the existence of Puerto Ricans but about their unique and beautiful history, as well as the important contributions that Puerto Ricans have made.
Before Congresswoman Velázquez left, she encouraged the students to stay active and engaged.
“Don’t ever underestimate the power of one individual, even a fifth grade student. When you pick up your phone, or post something online, or talk to your parents about sending a message to your Congressperson, don’t ever underestimate that you can get our attention. It is so important for you to learn about civic engagement because every individual can make a difference in our lives in the community.”
She urged students to participate in their local community meetings when they are able to do so, citing the nearby Gowanus Canal as an example of how civic engagement and government can have a direct impact on their own everyday lives in Brooklyn. In recent years, Congresswoman Velázquez secured a superfund designation for the cleanup of the Gowanus Canal and has been partnering with community organizations and other Brooklyn residents to restore the canal to its former glory so that every family can enjoy its beauty (and so the students could even one day go kayaking down the canal with their families!). With the Gowanus Canal being only a stone’s throw from ISB, this real and very close connection illustrated how students can make their voices heard by their elected officials to drive change in their community.
The 5th Graders were left feeling inspired by this powerful and intimate conversation with their local representative, whose passion for serving her community was palpable. “Go on to do great things!” Representative Velázquez said with a smile and she welcomed the students to come to visit her office in Washington as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Thank you to Congresswoman Velázquez for spending the time with our 5th Graders!