Clayton pupils ask Arne Duncan to visit

Clayton County Public Schools elementary school students got a lesson in writing to public officials this fall. They used their skills to campaign for U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, to visit the school district.

The school system has spent 2010 working to convince Duncan to visit the school system the next time he is in the Atlanta area. Last spring, a representative of the U.S. Department of Education visited the district to scout it out, and to see what innovative programs the school system has in place. In September, elementary school students wrote letters to Duncan, as part of their classroom lessons on learning how to write.

"Dear Mr. Duncan," one 7-year old Lake City Elementary School student wrote in a letter. "Welcome to our Wild West school, Lake City Elementary ... Please come visit our fascinating school."

On Dec. 17, the school system compiled more than 600 student-written letters, and mailed them to Duncan according to Ebony Thomas, the district's language arts coordinator. Students, ranging from kindergarten, to the eighth-grade, wrote letters to Duncan, she said.

The students who participated in the project attend Mount Zion Primary School, James A. Jackson, Riverdale, Lake City, Mount Zion, Roberta T. Smith and Suder elementary schools, as well as Mundy's Mill and Rex Mill middle schools, according to Thomas.

"We're just trying to convince Arne Duncan to come to our school district, so we asked students to think about why he should visit Clayton County Public Schools, and write that down in a letter," Thomas said.

Clayton County Public Schools Chief Academic Officer, Diana Carry said, however, the letters were more than just a way to get Duncan to visit. She explained it was also a way to give students some practice at the writing styles they were learning in their classes.

"We are trying to take the standards [Georgia Performance Standards], and make them applicable to children," Carry said. "For the elementary school students, that means learning how to write a letter. And, for our middle school students, that is learning to take an argument, and make a case."

Carry said she could not yet comment on how successful the district's campaign to get a visit from Duncan has been, but she promised to share more information after the district returns from its holiday break, in January 2011. Carry is overseeing the district's effort to get a visit from Duncan.

Last May, when the district was scouted a representative of the U.S. Department of Education, Carry explained that the district wants a visit from Duncan, to show off some of the district's "best practices" to promote student learning, including academic galleries, and various professional development programs for teachers.

Spokespersons from the U.S. Department of Education could not be reached for comment.