A lesson in civics

Published 8:41 am Thursday, March 20, 2014

Congressman Fred Upton visited St. Mary’s School in Niles Thursday to speak with students about government.

Congressman Fred Upton visited St. Mary’s School in Niles Thursday to speak with students about government.

For Principal Sharon Gregorski, U.S. Congressman Fred Upton’s visit to St. Mary’s School Wednesday ranks pretty high on her list of special days.

“The next best thing would have been the pope,” she said with a laugh as she helped usher the four-dozen or so students back to their classrooms at the private Catholic school in Niles.

Upton, a Republican Representative for Michigan’s 6th Congressional District, was first elected in 1987. Upton is spending the week in his district, talking with various constituent groups ranging from city

leaders in Niles to farmers in Van Buren to a manufacturers group from Berrien County.

But one of his most important visits may have been with the group that fell well short of the voting age. The students asked him a variety of questions ranging from how far it is to Washington, D.C. to how many bills he has passed to whether or not he has to wear the same clothes every day.

“It was exciting,” said 9-year-old Olivia Paturalski, a third-grader, adding that she was impressed that he has pens from several U.S. presidents. “He gets to help people

in his job.”

Courtney Bates, also a 9-year-old third grader, said she was surprised at how much the Congressman has to travel to serve the voters.

“He actually lives in Washington and Michigan,” she said.

Upton, who often talks about the fact that no elected official ever visited his school when he was a child, presented St. Mary’s with a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol.

“Sometimes we feel so remote from Washington, D.C. The kids don’t have that connection,” Gregorski said. “With Congressman Upton being here, we are establishing relationships. We are only going to be successful as a nation by establishing those positive relationships. We talk a lot about caring and understanding. That is important to making our school a success and our nation a success. If we work together on the small things, we can do that.”

That was a sentiment that Upton reciprocated.

“It is a delight to be here. Thanks for being who you are. Thanks for being an American,” he said to the students. “You have a responsibility as you grow up to really know what your government is doing and to be engaged. Whether you vote for a Republican or a Democrat, you have the opportunity to really make a difference for our country and I appreciate that.”

Before he left, the students said an Irish blessing — in honor of St. Patrick’s Day — that had the politician and children alike sharing an ear-to-ear grin as they all went back to work.