GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Hands rose high for state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli as he took questions from the curious students at W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School.
Fifth and eighth-grade students gathered around the dean of the Berkshire delegation to discuss local issues on Tuesday during a visit from the state representative.
"It was refreshing for me today to hear and learn that they knew some of the key issues in their particular community," Pignatelli said. "Whether it be water, or bridges, or roads or crosswalks, things that maybe aren't the sexiest things in the world, but are important to them."
Pignatelli, who was elected to his 11th term in November, explained what it was like being a state representative and its function within the state government. He talked about how it differed from a person elected to a select board but also how the two positions worked together.
He also touched on more localized subjects that impact students. Such as the proposed merger of Berkshire Hills and the Southern Berkshire regional school districts and topics surrounding the Hoosic River.
The lawmaker also discussed ways students can get involved in their community, government, and the different impacts they can have.
"In talking to [the students] prior to [Pignatelli ] coming and then listening to them here, I think it's given them so much excitement," math teacher and visit organizer Carole Aberdale said. "And for them to look at what they can actually do to change our community."
"And as he said, the possibilities are endless. So I'm hoping that this has opened their eyes up to how bright their future can be," she added.
The Lenox Democrat said it is important for him to be in the schools and connect with the younger people who he said are the future of Berkshire County and beyond. He added that younger people have a different perspective that is important to be in touch with.
"These are some of the purest, clear minds that we deal with sometimes, and just getting their perspective of things, I think, is really paramount," Pignatelli said. "And we need to do more of that. And that's why for my 20 years in the Legislature I've been into the schools on a pretty regular basis."
Eighth-grader Sonia Rundle said her classmates do not always get the opportunity for hands-on learning about government in the classroom, and fifth-grader Cailee Taylor said she now has a better understanding of how government works.
Fifth-grader Matilda Hobart said Pignatelli's visit inspired her to look at new ways to help her community.
Principal Ben Doren said Pignatelli's visit fits right into the curriculum and is a welcome addition to the students' education.
"It's amazing. What I love about it is that Smitty is our state representative. Our fifth- and eighth-grade curriculum frameworks from Massachusetts have a lot to do with civics, the way government works, the way society works," he said.
"So Smitty, coming in, and being a real person with a real face that kids can ask questions of, they can get straight information. I think is great. But then what I love even more is that the kids get a chance to get a first-hand experience with someone who's in our government and how it works and sparks the interest in civic life."
Aberdale agreed and noted it is important for students to feel this direct connection to their community and those who represent them in Boston.
"I think that it's made a connection with them with somebody besides their teachers. And they've heard from somebody at a different level how important it is for them to get more involved," she said.
Doren was also impressed by some of the questions students asked, noting it reflected well on the school staff.
"I'm really indebted to the teaching staff because they care so much about the kids, that they're making these really exciting, engaging experiences and bringing in real people to create a lot of interests. So for me, it just speaks to the quality of the teaching staff here," he said.
At the end of the discussion, it was clear that Pignatelli had a few fans. Students surrounded him requesting a picture and autograph.