Ninth Grade Studies Classes Prepare To Lobby Representatives


The increased gun violence in Washington inspired some Ninth Grade Studies classes to lobby for gun restrictions. Photo: Gareth Milner via Flickr.

During the second semester of the school year, Sidwell’s Ninth Grade Studies classes have been working on a lobbying project in partnership with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). Since January, students and research leaders have worked on identifying and learning about issues they are passionate about and preparing for a meeting with members of Congress.

Freshmen first identified multiple issues they were interested in and presented them to their classes, eventually agreeing on one issue to explore. Throughout the year, students learned about eight main socially constructed identities: race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, ability, religion, nationality and socioeconomic status. They then reflected on how these identities intersected. These reflections eventually turned into specific legislative acts that freshmen will discuss with members of Congress.

One class is lobbying in favor of bills advancing economic justice. They plan on meeting with the office of Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. These students are asking him to introduce the Economic Justice Act onto the Senate floor, a bill aimed at making billion-dollar investments in programs for at-risk youth and adults, child care, community health care and job training.

In the past, one criticism [students] have had is that the community engagement work often feels like lots of planning and learning and no doing.

— Laura Barrosse-Antle

Other classes are focusing on gun violence prevention, meeting with Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Maryland Reps. Jamie Raskin and Glenn Ivey. One student said this issue feels especially prevalent, as a 2022 study revealed that one-third of young people have experienced a mass shooting or gun violence personally, and at least half of people between the ages of 12 and 25 say they think about mass shootings weekly.

“In the past, one criticism [students] have had is that the community engagement work often feels like lots of planning and learning and no doing,” said Upper School Science Teacher and Ninth Grade Dean Laura Barrosse-Antle, who organized the lobbying project.“We wanted to make sure there was something actionable we could do, some sort of culminating experience aligned with the idea of ethical leadership.”

According to its website, the FCNL is a Quaker lobbying organization that “share[s] a belief in the power of relationship-building to advance the world we seek; one of peace, justice and environmental stewardship.”

Representatives from the FCNL have visited Ninth Grade Studies classes to provide students with a sense of what meetings with Congress members are like and what preparation entails. They also gave insight into the different roles of individuals and strategies to encourage members to listen. Classes selected research leaders, group leaders, notetakers and storytellers to make the meeting flow smoothly.

The FCNL representatives advised students to make their speeches and messages memorable, short and concise. They also encouraged students to share personal stories relating to the issue to engage with the audience. To manage students’ expectations, representatives told students never to expect a direct meeting with the politician –– instead, students should expect to meet with a member of the politician’s team.

“It’s a nice way to close out Ninth Grade Studies and use all the knowledge that we’ve learned throughout the year in a productive way that supports an issue we all deeply care about,” freshman Maina Vaidya said.

Freshman Jacob Osorio-Buitrago said, “This project was a very valuable experience because it taught us a lot about what other people are going through and how we can fix those problems and engage with our community more.”

“I hope Ninth Graders will feel empowered to lobby on this issue again,” Barrosse-Antle said. “Ultimately, we want them to take away from this project that they have a voice, their voice matters and they have tools to make sure other people hear it.”