Southwest High School 11th-graders in El Centro came face to face with former President Jimmy Carter, taking questions from the students here, and from students all over the nation.
Carter discussed the significance of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that he signed in 1980 and then answered questions during a video conference.
One of Haydee Rodriguez’s 11th-grade classes at Southwest was given this unique opportunity to interact with Carter through a distance-learning program with the help of the Internet2 K20 Initiative and Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California.
“The turnaround time was very short and my staff advised me that Southwest High School would be a venue where we could make this possible on the short timeframe,” said County Superintendent of Schools Anne Mallory in an email interview. “Ms. Rodriguez shared the students’ questions with me, which had to be submitted in advance. The questions were quite insightful and impressive.”
Questions from Pablo Zapata and from Alexis Estrada were chosen to ask Carter live.
“(The question) just came naturally,” Zapata said. “I think keeping the world for the future is important.”
Zapata asked, “How can we as citizens of the U.S. continue your legacy and protect our natural resources?” Carter said if there is an issue any student or person is concerned over, they should find others who believe in the same cause and then take that issue to their local officials.
“If you do that, I believe your voice will be heard,” Carter said. “Don’t be hesitant and don’t be afraid to speak up.”
Estrada thought up her question after watching videos on Carter’s life and presidency over the past week with her class.
“I’m very into the environment and I know that he passed that law for Alaska,” she said.
Her question to Carter was, “Why are businesses allowed to build over natural land and how can we stop it from happening?” Carter said he doesn’t believe businesses are legally allowed to build over natural land; however, it is sometimes uncertain what the status is for some land.
The Antiquities Act of 1906, Carter continued, helps to ensure lands are protected because it gives the president authority to restrict the use of public land owned by the federal government. Another way to protect the land would be to get it declared as a national monument.
“It was interesting to have my question chosen,” Estrada said. “I was interested to see what he would answer.”
She said she found Carter’s answer to be satisfactory.
“I’m really happy the students had this opportunity,” Rodriguez said. “You could really see they appreciated the experience and did their best to stay attentive.”
She said many of the historical events and documents Carter spoke of in the video conference will be things she can refer back to when teaching the Progressive Era, which is one of the upcoming topics in her class.
“I’m incredibly grateful to Imperial County Office of Education for making this happen,” she said.
Mallory addressed the class Monday after the video conference ended saying, “It is very, very rare for students to get a live conversation with a former president of the United States. You’re very fortunate.”
As the county superintendent, Mallory said she will continue to advocate for students to receive more of these opportunities in the future.
“This is not the first time that Imperial County students have been afforded such opportunities via video conference,” she said.
The National Poet Laureate spoke with students at Brawley Union High School and Southwest High School, and Holtville High students had a science video conference.
Pine School students had a video conference with several state park locations throughout California and Heber students spoke with former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from the Capitol while he was still in office.