More than 80 fourth-graders and their teachers from Mata Montessori school visited the Capitol in Austin last Thursday, thanks to an almost $3,000 grant from the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers (DAYL) that provided transportation. The fourth-graders started the day with a scavenger hunt on the Capitol grounds, then toured the Capitol building.
In the afternoon, various elected officials and dignitaries took time to meet with the fourth-graders. Sen. Bob Hall, in whose district Mata is located, met with the students soon after their tours finished.
“This is your Capitol. It belongs to you,” Hall told the students. “It belongs to all of the people in Texas.”
One student asked Hall which law was the most important, and he responded, “The one you’re about to break — that’s the most important law.”
Following Hall, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, a former Dallas ISD trustee, spent 30 minutes talking with the fourth-graders, answering their many questions about the STAAR exam and not shying away even after he told them his office creates the test and they responded with boos. The commissioner laughed good-naturedly, and told him the test wasn’t the “be-all end-all.” When they pressed him to get rid of the test, Morath turned the questions on them.
“Why do you think it’s important?” he asked. So we know if we’re failing, one student responded. But why would it be important to know whether we’re failing, he asked. “So we can get better,” one girl said. Morath affirmed her answer, telling the students he wanted them to get better and better at reading, writing and math because those are skills they will use in every job for the rest of their lives.
Sen. Don Huffines’ legislative director also visited to tell the students about her job, and they enjoyed her stories of making weird faces on TV when she forgets she is live on camera. Rep. Rodney Anderson also met with the students and was asked what advice he would give to someone who wanted to be a legislator. “Talk to someone who has done this,” he told them.
Even though the Legislature is “open to anyone and everyone who has $750 to file for office,” he said, Anderson urged the students to go to college because among their colleagues in Austin would be the likes of brain surgeons and attorneys.
“We have people here who are very smart, so if you want to be able to debate with them effectively, you should go get your degree,” Anderson said.
Shelby Bobosky, a pro bono attorney and the president of the Texas Humane Legislation Network board of directors, is a Mata mom and the PTA’s legislative committee chairwoman. She sought the grant and organized the trip.
She explains in the application that though a few Mata families visited the Capitol in spring 2015 during the school’s inaugural year, many did not because “a majority of our school’s population cannot afford to not only take off work but also pay for a round trip to and from Austin, Texas.” She wanted to expand the opportunity this session, and the DAYL Foundation made it happen by funding transportation costs.
“Many of these students have not been outside Dallas County,” Bobosky notes in the application. “This field trip could literally affect their education and lives forever. It is a history lesson, an advocacy experience and a public speaking opportunity they will never forget.”