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Good morning, Friends in Civics! Today’s post comes to us from a wonderful Civics teacher, Cathy Fernandez of Clearwater Fundamental Middle School in Pinellas County. In this post, she describes for us, so clearly and wonderfully, the impact that civic learning and engagement can have on kids, on teachers, and on the community. Thank you, Cathy, for sharing this wonderful story! 

Teachers have all had moments when we feel like a lesson is going to work out really well and we hope that feeling is correct.  Sometimes the feeling is right, and sometimes unfortunately it is not.  Then, there are other times when the lesson turns out better than you ever imagined with the help from a little luck.  This was the case when my 7th grade Civics students wrote to Florida Senator Jack Latvala and Florida Chris Latvala.

We studied the US Supreme Court Case Korematsu v. United States.  The students could not believe they had never been taught about the case before. They were even more surprised that the majority of adults they asked about the case had never heard of Fred Korematsu.  Their interest in the case was contagious and lead me to do some more research about Fred Korematsu.  As I learned more about the case, I discovered that there were several other states that declared a day of remembrance for Fred Korematsu in their state, and this is where a small lesson idea was born.

I was going to be out for a field trip shortly after I was looking into Fred Korematsu’s case.  I wanted to leave a lesson for the students that was going to be meaningful but something I knew they could work on independently or in small groups. So, I decided to have students write to Sen. Latvala and Rep. Latvala asking for a day of remembrance for Fred Korematsu in the state of Florida.  Students provided background information about the case, information about other states already having a day of remembrance, and why they felt Fred Korematsu is deserving of this honor.  The students did a fantastic job and really took ownership of their letters.  They were so excited to spread the word about Mr. Korematsu and were amazed that they were “allowed” to write to Sen. Latvala and Rep. Latvala.

I sent my principal, Mrs. Burris, an email letting her know about the assignment before I sent the letters out and that is where serendipity stepped in.  Mrs. Burris informed me that Sen. Latvala was already scheduled to be at our school because we were hosting a “Meet Your Legislator” night a few weeks after the letters were written.  So, students were invited to attend the “Meet Your Legislator” session and one of them read her letter to Sen. Latvala.  That evening Sen. Latvala informed us that he was going to write a resolution in the Florida Senate for January 30th to be known as Fred Korematsu Day.  I am not sure who was more excited about the news, the students or myself.

Senator Jack Latvala with the students of Cathy Fernandez!

Senator Jack Latvala with the students of Cathy Fernandez!

On March 24, 2015 Dr. Doug Dobson, FJCC Executive Director, Linda Whitely, Pinellas County Schools Social Studies Supervisor, two of our school PTA representatives and I were in the Florida Senate gallery when  Senate Resolution 1568 (SR1568) was introduced by Sen. Latvala and our students were watching via live stream at school.  SR1568 states that January 30, 2016 and every January 30 thereafter will be known as Fred T. Korematsu Day in the state of Florida in honor of his fight for civil liberties and to remember to stand up for the civil liberties for all.  On that same day, a Tribute was also filed in the Florida House of Representatives by Rep. Latvala in honor Fred Korematsu.

The students are beaming with pride. Not only because they have helped informed others about the heroic nature of Fred Korematsu but also because they expressed their opinions and their expressions were heard.  As a result of this lesson, students want to write about other issues and are doing so before the end of the school year and hopefully will do so throughout their lives.  They have seen they can make a difference and that you never have that opportunity unless you let your opinions be known.  What they write about next, may or may not have the same results as their letters about Fred Korematsu.  However, they will know they tried.

This lesson brought to life what we have studied in the classroom.  Students know which level of government to address their concerns to, they know how their freedoms are protected, and in my opinion above all, they are living civic engagement.

Teacher Cathy Fernandez holds the Resolution declaring January 30, 2016 and every January 30 thereafter will be known as Fred T. Korematsu Day in the state of Florida in honor of his fight for civil liberties and to remember to stand up for the civil liberties for all.

Teacher Cathy Fernandez holds the Tribute filed in the Florida House in honor of Fred Korematsu. Because of her efforts and those of her kids, January 30, 2016 and every January 30 thereafter will be known as Fred T. Korematsu Day in the state of Florida in honor of his fight for civil liberties and to remember to stand up for the civil liberties for all.

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