The Chance at Change: APH Students Write Letters to President Biden

Problem-solving does not happen by osmosis. Change does not appear from thin air. To make a difference is something learned, practiced and repeated. Penguin Hall students are actively participating in making a difference–from dedicating over 250 volunteer hours tutoring children with learning challenges, arranging a community clean-up, or curating an art gallery to spread awareness of the climate crises just to name a few. It’s our goal at APH, to empower our students to become the change they want to see in the world and to blaze their own trails towards a brighter future. But such change takes time and practice.

Our Civics class with Dr. Hannah Kimberley and Dr. Alick McLean, offers such practice and for students, it’s a golden opportunity to make their voices heard–hopefully to the ears of the President of the United States.

Have you ever felt powerless as you watch or read the news? Headline after headline appears with no good news in sight. What can we, as not only citizens of the U.S.A, but of this very planet, do in the wake of tragedy, injustice, the climate crises and so much more? It’s hard to believe change is possible when the future seems to rest in the palms of powerful men and women, especially in the government. Do we even have a role in this very complex production of American government?

We the people actually do.

Recently, students studied executive orders in American government in their Civics class. According to the American Bar Association, an executive order is “a signed, written, and published directive from the President of the United States that manages operations of the federal government. Executive orders are not legislation; they require no approval from Congress.” In his first month of service, President Biden has signed 34 executive orders, from addressing the COVID-19 pandemic to the climate crises.

In this class, students learn that as American citizens, we actually do play a significant role in the decisions being made. After familiarizing themselves with the executive orders President Biden has signed, students broke into small groups where they worked to narrow down two or three executive orders that they wanted to see turned into legislation. An executive order is a temporary solution and can easily be reversed by the next President, whereas legislation is more permanent and impactful and there is a smaller chance of a reversal by any future president. To take it one step further, an amendment is almost impossible to reverse, meaning it will have impacts for generations to come.

So, with this being said, students reviewed their executive orders and researched how it could become legislation and, more importantly, why it should become legislation. Once they had completed a significant amount of research, they began writing their letters to President Biden. In each letter, students made sure that they addressed why their specific executive order should be turned into legislation, laid out a plan that illustrated how it could become legislation, and how bipartisan support could be gained for this legislation.

Frances Correa ‘23 and Melissa Fernandez ‘24 focused on restoring faith in our legal immigration system and strengthening integration and inclusion efforts for new Americans. Gia Kilrow ‘23 and Olivia D’Amario ‘24 addressed workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientatin or gender identity and the list of letters other students wrote goes on!

In their letter, Caitlin Duffy ‘24 and Bridget Ayles ‘24 brought up the issue of how carbon emissions greatly contribute to the continuing climate crises.

“Caitlin and I wrote a letter addressing the issues of climate change due to carbon emissions and came up with solutions to help America lower their carbon emissions.” says Bridget. “I really liked this project because I was able to participate in something that could possibly bring change to an important issue. It made me feel very involved in what is going on in the world today. I also liked researching the solutions that different countries came up with to help lower their emissions because it made me more aware and gave me good ideas about what I can do individually to help lower my own carbon footprint.”

Our students hope President Biden sees these letters. On the other hand, they may come across his desk in the coming weeks with the return address reading “The Academy at Penguin Hall.” For Caitlin, it’s too great of an opportunity to pass, even if she’ll never know the outcome:

“We do not know if he will ever see them, much less if he will take into consideration what we have requested, but we do know that there is a chance that we can make a positive impact and use our voice to influence change. I wanted to share what my civics class is doing in hopes that it will inspire other students and faculty to use their voice for change. We can influence the decisions that the government makes when we use our voice to address issues and find solutions. As a citizen, you have a voice and it is up to you whether you scream at the top of your lungs or whisper, but either way, use your voice for change because you can and will have an impact.”

With emerging leaders like these APH students, we feel confident of a chance of change.