Young activists bring Jewish values to Capitol

Mirowitz fourth graders are shown with State Sen. Jill Schupp on the Senate floor. The students were introduced by name during a session of Senate and invited down to the Senate floor.

By Margaret Gillerman, Special to the Jewish Light

Missouri State Rep. Stacey Newman of Richmond Heights has some “most favorite lobbyists” and she’s not afraid to name them.

They’re “the fourth graders from Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School,” Newman wrote on Facebook.  She also displayed photographs of them with big smiles and excitement on their faces as they hobnobbed with several state legislators in the State Capitol.

The 9- and 10-year-olds were in Jefferson City earlier this month to “lobby”’ their legislators to support bills that the children had researched and chosen to support.  These ranged from bills to protect support dogs to a bill on texting while driving.

A dozen fourth-grade students traveled by bus to Jefferson City Feb. 4 with their teachers Laura Pupillo and Kerry Librando and Mirowitz technology director Andrea Newstead. Some parents came along to share the children’s momentous day.

State Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, called the students down to the floor of the Senate and introduced them. The children thought that was very cool.

Gabriel Bernstein took away some important lessons. One was that citizens’ opinions matters.

“The people have the power to elect who they want,” he said.

Yeshara Reznikov had an idea for a bill of her own.

That bill should say: “All dogs should be treated equally,” she said. That includes pit bulls. Her family has a pet pit bull.


Students find their voice 

The trip to Jefferson City is an adventure for the fourth-grade students of Mirowitz every year. It fits in with one of the school’s main goals.

 “Our students learn to find their voice and use it to affect positive change,” Cheryl Maayan, head of school, said.  “They know that they do not have to be a grown up to make a difference in the world. I, for one, cannot wait to see them as adults, because I know the kind of difference that Mirowitz students will make will be significant.”

 As part of their studies, the fourth grade learns what government is and how it works — about balance of power, branches of government and how a bill becomes law. They’re learning to write “persuasively.”

Pupillo, the fourth-grade teacher, said that the children had an experience in Jefferson City that many adults have not.

“It’s a good reminder for those of us who are old enough to vote,’’ Pupillo said. “We should be contacting our legislators. We should have a bigger voice” on issues.

As part of the day, the children visited the state Supreme Court, talked with Judge Paul Wilson and learned about cases the court hears. The class spent an hour at the Missouri State Archives, where they researched topics from Josephine Baker to the history of slavery in the state.

Dani Wasserman looked up information about the World’s Fair of 1904. “That’s where the ice cream cone was invented,” she said authoritatively.

Zachary Cohen also was very enthusiastic about the trip.

“I love politics,” said Zachary, who watched television coverage of the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary. If he goes into politics, the nine-year-old said, “I want to do something about gun control. I want to keep the country out of a Depression and I want to keep the country out of war.”

Another highlight for the fourth graders was the “whispering room,” actually a gallery under the capitol Rotunda where a person can stand on one side and whisper and be heard on the other side of the dome.

Before the trip, the students wrote opinion letters to the legislators and introduced themselves.

Gabriel wrote to State Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette: “I am a fourth grade student at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School.  One thing about myself is that I love to play soccer and tennis. I also like some board games like King of Tokyo and Electro Digits.

“The purpose of my letter at this time is to share my opinion on HB 1383, The A+ Schools Program.” After outlining reasons for extending eligibility for free community college to private as well as public high school students, he wrote:  “I hope that you vote for it.”

In her letter to State Rep. Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, Mollie Nathanson wrote about HB 1384-Cyberbullying, which would allow school districts to discipline students.

 “This bill should become a law because it will bring friendships back together,” Mollie wrote. “People who are cyberbullying can also be hurt. For example, if you have a job with a computer, you could send mean things to people that you work with and end up getting fired…I hope that you consider my opinion when voting.  Have a good rest of your day!”

The official daily journal of the Missouri Senate now lists the Mirowitz visitors.  The other fourth-grade students were: Ido Felix, Nomi Inberg, Naomi Liebson, Mia Meir, Eli Peters, Judah Segal and Alyssa Weisenberg.


Becoming social activists

Patty Bloom, who is director of admissions and marketing at Mirowitz, said:  “Mirowitz students don’t go to our state as tourists. They go as activists. …Tourists walk through the capitol building passing by doors of their representatives and senators. Our Mirowitz social activists knock on their doors. They have scheduled individual appointments and have learned to express their opinion about a house bill.”

 Schupp and McCreery had stopped by the school in advance to prepare the class for the visit.

State Reps. Joe Adams, D-University City,  Bill Otto, D-Maryland Heights, Jeanne Kirkton, D-Webster Groves,  and Sue Allen, R-Town and Country, also met with the children in Jefferson City.

On her Facebook page and in tweets, Newman, praised Dani Wasserman for asking Newman if she would support “no texting while driving” legislation for adults.

“I sure do!” Newman wrote. “And I promise to endorse you for the 5th-grade buddy for granddaughter Maya next year.”

Newman’s granddaughter will start kindergarten at Mirowitz next year, and Newman’s daughter-in-law, Margo Newman, is the school’s director of development.