A civics lesson for Shaftsbury 6th graders

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SHAFTSBURY — The sixth-graders at Shaftsbury Elementary School got an up-close civics lesson recently.

Well, as close as a Zoom meeting allows.

The two sixth grade classes, co-taught by Zebulon Miner and Karen Aiken, usually make a trip to Montpelier and the State House at the end of the year to finish their study of Vermont state government. This year, with remote learning in place, the Shaftsbury students met online with Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan.

"It was a wonderful experience and it helped supplement our trip to the State House," said Miner, who has been teaching at Shaftsbury Elementary for the past two years. "[T.J.] has done these [remote] meetings before and was happy to answer the kids' questions."

The meeting with Donovan was set up by the parent of one of Miner's students. They got in touch with one of Donovan's assistants, who helped arrange the meeting.

Miner said that Donovan, who is a father with two elementary-age children of his own, connected very easily with the students.

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"During the visit, [Donovan's] son came on as well," Miner said. "For the kids to see that he's a dad, a human being, it makes it easy to relate to."

In the meeting, the students were able to ask questions, including why he wanted to be the attorney general, if you have to be a lawyer to be AG and what historical figures inspire him.

"He talked about figures like Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Robert Kennedy, but he also talked about his family," Miner said.

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His father was an attorney and his mother is a state representative from Burlington.

Donovan closed the meeting by talking about his own experience struggling in school, saying that "sooner or later you'll find something that really grabs your interest. That's something that happened for me, and it's what led me down this path."

The virtual trip capped a school year in which the students learned all about the state government.

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"We do a virtual tour of the State House and the branches of government," Miner said. "We talk about our local representatives, who they are and what they do. Last year, we talked about Brian Campion as one of our local reps and who was the first person to see us [during last year's trip]? Brian Campion."

They also bring up a local issue and host mock Senate and House debates about that issue, learning how a bill becomes a law.

This year was different.

"We had to learn more about the attorney general," Miner said. "We figured out what branch he is in and what his role is within the government. We went much more in depth about the subject."

Miner said he was thrilled that nearly all the students were able to get on to the Zoom meeting.

"We had almost 100 percent attendance, which is awesome," Miner said.


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