Kason Rote walked into Centre Hall-Potter Elementary School on Friday morning as though he were walking into work.
The second-grader wore a white dress shirt and a striped tie. He had a press pass around his neck and an iPad in his hand.
Kason was one of 57 students from three second-grade classes who participated in a mock press conference with state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, giving them a little taste of what a day in the life of a newspaper reporter is like.
The project was spearheaded by teacher Amy Smith, who made a goal this year to give her students a better understanding of the community and to participate in community service projects.
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“It’s just a different way of teaching,” Smith said. “Instead of having them listen to me lecture in front of class, they can have the opportunity to be a part of it.”
Benninghoff sat at the head of Smith’s classroom and made an opening statement. The children then rattled off questions one at a time, taking notes on their iPads.
They were given press badges and nameplates at the reporter’s table. Throughout the week leading up to the event, they brainstormed questions to ask Benninghoff.
“The toughest thing, whether with kids or the actual press, is that you never know what questions you’ll get asked,” Benninghoff said.
Benninghoff has held the 171st District seat for 18 years and is seeking re-election in November.
Twice a year, Benninghoff makes his way to Centre Hall-Potter Elementary School to read to children. It’s something he’s been doing since 1996.
When Smith approached him to participate in something more in-depth with her students, Benninghoff was on board.
“It’s helping connect with students on a different level,” he said.
The students said they thought it was important to get to know a politician who represents their community.
“I wanted to know how a law becomes a law,” said Alliah Crow, 7, of Centre Hall. “He said a group of people sit down and talk about the issue and then decide. Sometimes it’s a good idea and sometimes it’s a bad idea.”
Alliah and classmates Max King, 7, and Liam Quigley, 8, said they’d like to see Pennsylvania become a state that makes it a requirement for motorcyclists to wear helmets when driving.
Liam added that he’d also like to see laws for farm equipment operators that make it safer for them driving on a road that’s shared with other vehicles — especially downhill — to avoid the possibility of tipping over.
“I just want people to be safe,” Liam said.
Benninghoff said that if residents, including youth, have concerns, they should call his office or write a letter.
“I have a job to be the voice of the people and represent the district,” he told the class.
Next week, Smith’s class will debrief and discuss what they learned from the mock press conference, and then take a field trip to downtown Bellefonte to see the Sheriff’s Office, courthouse, library and Benninghoff’s office.
“This is going to be an ongoing project and theme in our class to better acquaint them with the community where they live,” Smith said.