Second graders visit with state legislators in Jefferson City

Updated: Feb. 28, 2017 at 11:50 AM CST
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Sen. Doug Libla invites Eugene Field students (left) Makayla Cantu and Sara Tolliver to sit at...
Sen. Doug Libla invites Eugene Field students (left) Makayla Cantu and Sara Tolliver to sit at his office chair, which features the official seal of Missouri.

POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) - Eugene Field Elementary was recently selected among 15 public schools in Missouri to showcase to legislators its highly successful programming.

Second graders Makayla Cantu and Sara Tolliver, the youngest of the student participants at the Capitol, had the opportunity to discuss The Leader in Me with congressmen and education leaders during the Missouri School Boards' Association legislative forum. They included Commissioner of Education Dr. Margie Vandeven.

In December, the elementary school became the 13th in Missouri to achieve lighthouse status under the program. Principal Jennifer Taylor credits it for helping to annually boost English MAP scores by 12 percent, increase attendance by 5 percent, and decrease behavior referrals by 69 percent since being fully implemented four years ago with grant funding.

"I had some very special visitors in Jeff City this week," Sen. Doug Libla posted on Facebook following the event. "The students were displaying some of their school projects in the Capitol rotunda. I was very impressed. Keep up the good work!"

Libla, who invited the girls to visit his office following the showcase, noted that Eugene Field was the first school he "bragged about" when initially meeting first-year Superintendent Scott Dill.

House Speaker Todd Richardson, accompanied by Rep. Steve Cookson, gave Sara and Makayla a tour of the House chamber, allowing the students to stand at the dais and hold the gavel. The students told the legislators about their leadership roles, which include public speaking, patriotic, photography, teaching assistant and science teams. Richardson commented that it sounded very much like the committees lawmakers serve.

"I'm impressed that men and women of such importance took the time to make our little 8 year old's feel special," said Sara's mother Mary Tolliver, who served as one of the teacher chaperones. Tolliver pointed out that the girls took a half step back when the first visitor stopped by their booth, then they quickly got into the groove, presenting to a total of about 35 officials. "When the initial intimidation wore off, they didn't seem to have any qualms talking, which I found astounding and really showed their maturity."

Once very shy, Tolliver credits the LIM for giving her daughter confidence and helping her find her voice.

Based on the success of the event, MSBA plans to invite students to participate at the legislative forum each year going forward, according to officials. Other schools at the showcase included Border Star Montessori in Kansas City and the John Thomas School of Discovery in Nixa, with a single district representing almost all of the regions within the organization.

"I see very good things around us, but this is great," said Dill, who also attended the legislative forum. "The culture that the teachers and staff have brought about in the school is changing lives, churning out citizens that will be better prepared for everything that comes their way."

Last week, another Eugene Field student was able to showcase his leadership skills beyond Poplar Bluff Schools. Third grader Keaton Willcut introduced keynote speaker John O'Leary before over 500 people in attendance during the LIM symposium in Independence.

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