March 14, 2013

North students get ‘a lot out of’ Manchin’s visit | Times West Virginian

RACHEL — Students at North Marion High School were in awe when U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, DW. Va., paid them a visit Wednesday.

The senator stopped by the school around 7:45 a.m. to meet with two Advanced Placement government classes, which joined together in teacher Elizabeth Lopez’s classroom for the occasion.

In addition to those 35 AP government students, who are primarily seniors, a group of journalism and yearbook students was also present for the discussion.

Lopez said the idea originated through one of the senator’s aides, who had been a North Marion student and asked if the school would be interested in doing a Skype video chat with Manchin. The session was set up for Wednesday, but those plans changed when the senator had a death in the family.

Manchin was in town for the funeral and decided to show up at North Marion beforehand to talk to the kids in person for about an hour and a half. This is the type of opportunity that the students won’t get very often, Lopez said.

“They were a little starstruck,” she said. “You don’t see too many U.S. senators at North Marion High School.”

Lopez said her AP government students brainstormed in advance and came up with seven questions that could get the conversation started. They wanted to know about everything from the sequestration and the budget proposals to whether Manchin was going to run for president.

“I’m sure the kids got a lot out of it,” Lopez said. “I think their questions were really well thought out and planned. They had true understanding of the governmental process. I think he was impressed with the questions, too.”

The different topics that Manchin spoke about sparked the curiosity of the students and led them to ask other questions, said senior Dalton Shoulders, who is in the Young Politicians Club and is interested in a career related to politics.

He said the group discussed the senator’s definition of leadership and his views on gun control and President Barack Obama’s executive orders, as well as the coal industry in West Virginia and the importance of education.

“It’s fascinating to talk to someone who has so much influence,” Shoulders said. “Literally he is part of a group of men and women who create the laws that we live by.”

Samantha Higginbotham, also a senior, asked Manchin about how budget cuts are affecting the military and about financial aid for students.

“When he explained his view ... he was really respectful and talked about the other person’s view and how you should compromise,” she said.

On Tuesday, Manchin was in Washington, D.C., in a meeting with the president, who was addressing the Senate Democratic Caucus, and the following day he was in West Virginia at North Marion High School. Higginbotham found that connection to be “really cool.”

When asked about the possibility of running for president in 2016, Manchin said he was satisfied doing his best in his current position, but that anything could happen in the future, Higginbotham and Shoulders explained.

Senior Taylor Hutson said Manchin also asked the students about their thoughts on MTV’s “Buckwild.” The senator commented that calling the series a reality shows puts a negative light on West Virginia, and it should be considered entertainment and not reality.

“I just like how he spoke to us on a personal level and kind of broke everything down for us to understand more,” Hutson said.

Sarah Tilko, also a senior, covered Manchin’s visit for the school newspaper. She said the senator provided the students with some background on himself and the business environment he grew up in. He also urged them to apply the elements of product, value and serviceability to be successful.

“I felt like he’s really involved in the government and actually trying to make a difference,” Tilko said. “It just felt refreshing that he actually seems to care.”

Not only did the newspaper staff listen to Manchin speak so they could write a story, but the school’s 3NTV staff also shot video of the senator, the radio station recorded audio, and the yearbook team took photos, said Millie Swiger, assistant principal of North Marion.

She said Manchin, who is from Marion County, showed the students that they could potentially have a future in government and that their opinions matter.

“It was fantastic,” Swiger said of their special guest’s visit. “I was so pleased that Sen. Manchin had the availability in his schedule to come out and meet with our students so that they could have (his) perspective.”

By:  Jessica Borders