Congressional politics invaded Peder Engebretson’s ninth grade government class Monday, May 20 when U.S. Rep. Erik Paulson made a visit to the Compass Program at Bell Center, one of Anoka-Hennepin’s alternative high school programs in Coon Rapids.
Paulsen’s visit offered the classes students a rare glimpse into the everyday life of a congressman, from the nuts and bolts of what Congress does, to unique parts of his daily life.
“It’s a bit like college. In (Washington D.C.), I share an apartment and have roommates,” Paulsen said to gasps and groans from the students. “I sleep in a bunk bed.”
Those fellow roommates — Congressmen from Illinois, Texas and Louisiana — also offer a good way to escape the partisan politics of being in government, Paulsen said.
“They also have young families and it gives us a chance to talk about real stuff, not just politics,” Paulsen said. They also have baseball practice together every Tuesday morning to prepare for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity, which has pitted Democrats versus Republicans on the ball field in June since 1909.
Compass’ Student Learning Advocate Sheba Aldridge-Coffey helped Engebretson arrange to have Paulsen talk to the kids.
“The goal of all this is to bring the government class to life,” she said. “(Engebretson) challenges the kids to think about questions to ask and issues to discuss. It makes for a lively and interesting class.”
And Paulsen isn’t the only person that’s come to talk to Engebretson’s class. Aldridge-Coffey has also arranged visits by former Minnesota Attorney General Warren Spannaus, Rep. Susan Allen — who is also the state’s first female American Indian House representative, and former Anoka-Hennepin School Board member, Rep. Jerry Newton.
In preparation for Paulsen’s visit, Engebretson broke the students into small committees, each with a different focus, and asked them to develop questions to ask.
The Benghazi Committee asked Paulsen about the Libya consulate attack and subsequent scandal that rocked the State Department. The IRS Committee asked the congressman about scandal plaguing that department of government, and another group asked him about his role on the House Ways and Means Committee. The last one focused on party politics as things are so divisive right now.
“These are all really great questions. I’m quite impressed,” Paulsen said.
He also talked with students about how he got into politics. A self-described number cruncher, Paulsen worked for a number of companies, including Target, while also interning in former Rep. Jim Ramstad’s office. He then persued and won seats in Minnesota’s state House and Senate before being elected to the U.S. Congress in 2008.
“Now, I’m not allowed to have another job,” he said. “This job is considered so important, I’m not allowed to have another job other than this one — not that I have time.”
Anoka-Hennepin’s Compass Programs consist of a variety of sites that help meet the learning and behavior needs of students who are in transition because of change or crisis in their lives.