By Adam Kramer
State Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) went back to school last week.
She did not return to classes to pick up another degree or resume her career as a school safety supervisor but to talk to students about the importance of America’s system of representative democracy.
Clark, who represents Queens Village, Cambria Heights and St. Albans, stopped in at PS 18 in Queens Village last Thursday and Campus Magnet High School in Cambria Heights as part of a nationwide program sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislators called “Go Back to School.”
“In light of the recent terrorist attacks that have taken place in our nation,” said Clark, “I feel it is particularly important for government leaders to interact with students to help put these events in a perspective that will reinforce and reaffirm the principles and freedoms that this great nation stands for.”
Clark, a member of the education committee in the state Assembly, is one of the political leaders in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which won a lawsuit against the state on the grounds that it had discriminated against New York City and several other urban areas by giving them too small a share of the educational budget.
She helped to lead the fight against Gov. George Pataki’s appeal of State Supreme Court Judge Leland DeGrasse’s January ruling in favor of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. He ordered the state Legislature to find a better system of providing money for schools in the state’s five largest cities led by New York.
Clark has said the added funding would raise the overall spending on each city student from about $6,000 to about $10,000.
In addition, she said, the extra money would go a long way toward alleviating the overcrowding throughout the borough, which has the most severe shortage of seats in the city.
Clark, who visits different schools throughout the year, has participated in the “Go Back to School” program since its inception two years ago. She said the program was started to get students more involved with how the government works.
“I think the program is important because I need to hear from children and they need to hear from me,” Clark said. “All of them have concerns about teachers’ pay, the Regents exams and a longer school year. They are all keyed in on all of the educational issues.”
The students need to know that even though they do not vote, she said, they can have access to elected officials.
“One of my current staffers, Nkechi Nwakanma, got her first real introduction to politics when she interned in my office as a college student,” Clark said. “According to her, the understanding she received from books and reading could not compare to the understanding she developed as a result of personal interaction and one-on-one contact with legislators.”
The weeklong event, which took place from Sept. 17 to Sept. 21, allowed students to meet personally with elected representatives to discuss some of their concerns and to share ideas.
“I participated in the ‘Go Back to School’ program last year and found it to be a very worthwhile and rewarding experience for students, teachers, faculty and myself,” Clark said. “Everyone who does is bound to benefit greatly.”
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.