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Future Reporters And Politicos Challenge Bishop In Mock Press Conference

Originally Posted: September 24, 2008

Kelly Carroll

The mock press conference, according to teacher Jim Duca, was to help students learn about the great opportunities they have to serve their community. Photos by Kelly Carroll

Westhampton Beach - Seventh and eighth graders from the Westhampton Beach Middle School tackled some tough issues outside of the classroom Monday morning, holding a mock press conference with Rep. Tim Bishop (D) of the first congressional district. The future reporters and politicians posed insightful questions on some of the biggest problems facing their world today, asking what federal officials, like the congressman, are doing to safeguard their safe and prosperous future.

Rep. Bishop said he was suprised at the caliber of questions the middle
school students asked him.

"I think this went extremely well," Bishop said after the press conference that took place in the auditorium at Westhampton Beach High School. "Their questions were well thought out, and they dealt with some major issues."

Panelists for the day's event included six exemplary seventh and eighth grade students - Rachel Rienecker, Alexa Smith, Max Pastor, Jessica Mendelson, Annica Penn and Timothy Hoare - who posed the questions their classmates devised. According to seventh grade Social Studies teacher Jim Duca, the panelists were chosen "out of recognition of some outstanding students."

"These are leaders, models," he commented.

Monday's press conference was the brain-child of several Westhampton Beach teachers, including Duca, fellow Social Studies teachers Bryan Schaumloffel and Bill Hempfling, and English teacher Glenn Dorskind. According to Duca, school administrators were very receptive to the initiative, which had been successfully executed in the school district a few times in the past. The foray into journalism and politics gave students the opportunity to research history, government and current events while creating and posing their questions to the congressman.

Topics covered during the 45-minute press conference, which precluded a similar high school event later in the morning, related to gun control, the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the current mortgage crisis, immigration, the situation in Darfur, drilling for oil in Alaska, and healthcare, as well as some close-to-home issues such as standardized testing, alternative forms of energy for Long Island and the reopening of the Shoreham power plant.

ix student panelists were chosen for their exemplary leadership abilities to ask the questions created by their classmates.

"I think my answer to this is going to be important," laughed Bishop when asked if he thought testing was a good way of monitoring a student's progress. To the students' relief, Bishop told them that testing is one way to track progress, but that he doesn't see it as the only way, stating that testing involved in the No Child Left Behind legislation has actually hurt education.

Duca said he hoped that hosting Bishop at his school helped teach the students that there are many different ways of offering service in your community - that by being a congressman, Bishop is ultimately helping the community he grew up in.

Serving for many years as the provost at Southampton College, Bishop, who said he tried to represent himself in a way that the students could understand, put on his teacher's hat for a moment, and tasked the students with one heavy assignment - "find out if your parents are registered to vote," he urged them. Then, back in politician mode, he continued - "remind them on Nov. 4."

Students from Westhampton Beach Middle School's seventh and eighth grade classes filled the high school's auditorium to hear Bishop speak.

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