These Alhambra Students' Schoolwork Went From The Classroom To The Halls Of Congress
Most high school assignments get turned in and promptly forgotten. But for students in Jose Sanchez's civics class at Alhambra High School, their homework ended up on the floor of the United States Congress. The journey was something like an updated version of that classic Schoolhouse Rock song -- emphasis on the schoolhouse.
It all started in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 students and faculty dead. Sanchez, who had usually taught history but was taking on a government class for the first time, found himself inundated with questions from students trying to process the horrific attack. He jumped at the chance to turn a tragedy into a teachable moment.
"It just literally became a two-month-long assignment about the Second Amendment, about mass shootings and about shootings in schools," Sanchez told KPCC's Take Two. "It really gave us things to think about; about what we can do about this."
What began as school work to help students learn about our government process and understand the news culminated in a visit from their local congresswoman, Judy Chu, which would eventually lead her to present their classroom-created legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives as House Resolution 1076.
Homework to House floor
The class reached out to local government bodies and agencies such as the Alhambra Unified School District board and the local democratic club for advice. From there, the idea to draft a resolution began to form.
Because the school district had already drafted a resolution, the class decided to model theirs after it. For weeks, students worked together, taking the existing seven or so pages of the district's resolution, and molding it into their own.
"It was literally the democratic process at hand, students going back and forth debating, arguing why they should leave this and why they should take it out to the point where they got it down to a little over a page," said Sanchez.
The final product was legislation that raises the minimum age for buying guns from 18 to 21, calls for mandatory background and mental health checks, and local or state government training that is paid for by the potential gun buyer.
It was at this point that Rep. Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, paid the class a visit and they presented their work to her.
"(One student) said 'Wow. This is getting pretty legit, huh?'" Sanchez said. "I told them, absolutely, it's getting legit."
So, when Sanchez and his students found out that Chu was presenting their work on the House floor on Tuesday, they were "ecstatic."
"I think that this points to the power that kids or anyone can have when they're given information and it just points out that they can do almost anything," he said.
When Chu visited the class in late May, she was impressed by the amount of work the "remarkable class" had poured into the resolution.
"They were thoughtful and impassioned as they presented their views to one another and to the public," Chu said in a statement. "And it worked."
"And now, I'm hoping to help them do the same at the federal level."
"While gun violence becomes more and more of a norm in our country, students too are recognizing that this is not an unsolvable issue," said current Alhambra High School senior Anthony Hu, who also worked on the resolution. "H.Res. 1076 is significant to us because it is the first step toward safer schools and safer communities."
What comes next?
Chu referred HR 1076 to three House committees: Judiciary, Education and the Workforce and Energy and Commerce. It's not clear when they will be discussed or voted on, but you can track the progress here.
"I'm hoping that the committee(s) will look at this very seriously and look at the work that my students have written and that they use this as a model for national legislation," Sanchez said.
For him, it doesn't matter if the resolution ends up picked apart if it's adopted. What's important to him is the possibility that a part of his student's work will have an "impact that reduces the amount of deaths in this country by firearms both in the public but more importantly in public schools."
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