Nichole Bontomasi and Michael Baker, teacher and student at Lamphere High School in Madison Heights, were selected to represent Michigan at the Civic Renewal Network’s Constitution Day Celebration on September 16-17, 2014.
The Michigan Center for Civic Education was asked to recommend a high school teacher who engages students in projects that address a newsworthy civic issue, problem or need; has the potential to influence local or national policymakers; includes a “call to action,”; and demonstrates civic skills, knowledge, and attitudes.
One of the many reasons Bontomasi was selected was because her Current Issues class completes a project based on Project Citizen every year. This year’s project, “No Child Left Behind – Pathways For Us All,” focused on offering a high school graduation track which encourages/allows students to explore trade school as a viable choice to college instead of an act of failure or desperation. This year, Baker was the class spokesperson.
Highlights of the experience included tours of the Capitol, Library of Congress and the Supreme Court, meetings with Civic Renewal Network (CRN) staff and partners, an evening program on the 16th to celebrate the student’s accomplishments and prepare them for their presentations the next day, the Preamble Challenge at the Capitol, a Naturalization Ceremony, and a tour of the Newseum.
A special program for teachers was the roll out of the CRN’s website and a presentation by the Academy of Arts and Sciences on the problem of civic apathy and the need to engage society.
The highlights of the trip were meetings with Senator Carl Levin and Representative Sander Levin where Baker had the opportunity to present his project. “These meetings left us both feeling excited and proud of our government and the process of involvement that we, as citizens have,” said Bontomasi.
“Michael explained (his project) in detail and fielded all of Senator Levin’s questions. I have never seen a person look more proud than Michael did as we exited. As the door shut, he looked at me and beamed.” I said, “You did it.” He looked at me, stood even straighter and said, “I DID IT!”
“I could not, absolutely could NOT be prouder than I was when Michael took a deep breath, said, “OKAY!” and just ran with it,” Bontomasi said.
Constitution Day ended with an evening banquet for the students providing an exciting exchange of the day’s events and the opportunity for reflection. Finally, a debate on the Federalist Papers was the evening’s final presentation with actors representing the founding fathers.
“It was impressive to see teenagers focused on the debates of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson,” said Bontomasi.
According to Bontomasi, Baker knew from class, that he had a voice and he could use it, but this experience showed him the absolute power of his voice. Baker now knows he can exact change in a way he never thought possible before.
“Baker learned that a young man, from Madison Heights, MI., can have a conversation with his representatives in government and be genuinely heard.
“I have taught long enough to know that I have not done anything as meaningful as this. Michael and I are sincerely grateful for the opportunity and wish every teacher and every student could have an experience like this. This was one of those great standout moments in life,” said Bontomasi.