Last time around, they didn’t have much to say about it.
After all, my daughter Libby and her classmates in Mrs. Buyser’s class were only in kindergarten when Barack Obama took the oath of office as the 44th president of our country. Back then, they were too busy adjusting to their half-day schedules and remembering the rules of Safety Town to pay attention to the inauguration, which was probably broadcast during their nap time, anyway.
But, as our country knows, a lot can change in four years. These kids are now fourth-grade students at Green-Fields Elementary School, and they have started to form some very real opinions about what is going on in the world. In fact, they have so much to say that when their teacher, Jennifer Buyser, suggested writing letters to President Obama as he prepares to take the oath for his second presidential term, they jumped at the chance to offer their insight and advice.
“They were excited about contacting the president, and were very vocal in their opinion about different subjects they’ve heard from the news or their parents,” Buyser said. She added that there was quite a bit of debate in the classroom, "but the kids kept it polite and respected each other’s opinions.” (That’s one lesson some grown-ups could learn from the fourth graders!)
So, what was on the minds of these future diplomats? School safety, taxes and the length of the school year topped the list of the things the fourth-graders discussed in their letters to the commander in chief.
“I would love for you to lower the taxes. Can you make the summers longer because all us kids love summer, and we love the pool,” Egypt requested.
Ronya told the president about those less fortunate than his family. “Please help the people in tent city,” he wrote. “They really need food, and people are broke because of high taxes.”
For Andrew, it was personal. “I would like you to lower taxes so my parents can afford more stuff for me,” he wrote in bright purple marker.
Courtney wrote a thoughtful note, requesting the budget be balanced without raising taxes. Then she added a suggestion about how to get that done. “Please reach out to all of the people in the government so we can work together,” she said, adding, “I would also like for you to be kind and do a better job dealing with the people who don’t agree with you.”
Jimmy got straight to the point, detailing his own plan for the country. “I think you should lower taxes by 40 percent and let the schools carry firearms in the main office and the teachers closest to all the doors carry (a gun) in their desk,” he wrote.
Others took a lighter approach. Nia requested a Child’s Day, when kids could do whatever they wanted. “For example, going to the zoo, or getting a hot dog from the New York street carts for food, or go to Toys 'R Us,” she suggests.
Brian had a four point plan that included printing more money and lowering the price of Pokemon trading cards. Kristin asked for an autograph and at least one more half-day a month at school. My own daughter, Libby, thought a presidential order for a gummy bear party at Green-Fields would be the best way to kick off the president’s next four years. (I’m not sure how that would go over with Mrs. Obama!)
But it was evident that Newtown was on the mind of many of the students. In his letter, Eric requested lower taxes so families could go to Disney World or out to dinner. Then he added, “And most of all, maybe you should ban guns, after what happened in Connecticut…You also should make police guard the schools so a gunman can’t harm kids!”
“Dear President Obama, One thing you can improve is the safety of our schools,” wrote Kylie F., also touching on Dec. 14's tragedy. “You can have police officers at every school so the school shooting doesn’t happen to the kids. I think you can lower taxes so the parents can pay more bills and go on trips and out to eat.”
Then she added a P.S.: “Please write back.”
The letters were packaged and mailed to the White House, and the kids are hoping they’ll get some sort of response. Some even hoped the president would visit, wishing the impossible in that way young hearts have a tendency to do.
But most of the letters reflected that the kids have realistic—and hopeful—dreams for the next four years. As Quenton wrote, “Dear Mr. President Obama, Congratulations on your second term as president! I would like to see all of our troops back safely in the United States soon. I have faith in you and in our future in the next four years.”
And as I read the plans and ideas, the hopes and dreams of these 9- and 10-year-olds, I felt the same, even for the years after that.