BREWER — During a videoconference with students at Washington Street School on Monday from her Washington, D.C., office, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins told the 8- and 9-year-olds that she also does homework.
“Every night I have to do homework” to prepare for the next day, the third-term senator from Maine told students during a Skype visit. “I work very hard for the people in the state of Maine, and I take a big notebook home” filled with articles, reports and notes about happenings of the day.
Before the video call was made, third-grade students in Cherrie MacInnes’ classroom could barely hold back their excitement about meeting one of the state’s two senators.
“The hardest part is the waiting,” their teacher told them as they wiggled in their seats.
Around 2 p.m. the Internet connection was made and Collins appeared larger than life on a whiteboard in front of the classroom.
“Hello, everybody,” she said. “I’m so excited to participate. I think this is so creative.”
Third-graders in MacInnes’ class last year, under the teacher’s “Chatting Across the USA” project, traveled to all 50 states using the Internet. Collins heard about the project and someone from her staff called MacInnes on the last day of the 2009-10 school year to set up a meeting.
This year’s class has used Skype to visit nine states so far, and by Friday that number will increase to 11, the teacher said.
To start off their Internet visit with Collins, each of MacInnes’ 23 students stood in front of the teacher’s wireless computer, which is equipped with a webcam, and told the senator something about the project.
“We are teaching third-graders from other states about the state of Maine,” one said.
Another pupil said the class is very proud of former Republican Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman from Maine to serve in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I now hold her seat in the Senate,” Collins told the students. “I was the 15th woman in history to be elected to the Senate. Three of those 15 women have been from the great state of Maine.”
While standing in line to speak with Collins, Michela Malchiodi, 9, said, “We love doing this. It’s so fun.” When she got to the webcam she told the senator that the students have visited with several states and are pen pals with a class in Arizona.
Rowan Andrews, 9, was behind Malchiodi in line and said, “We like to chat with other classrooms around the world.” She told the senator that the class also has pen pals in Belarus, a country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia and Poland.
Collins told the students that she recently met with leaders from Belarus and was impressed that the Brewer students had contacted their counterparts in that country.
“Belarus is not a free country like our country,” she told them. “I think that it’s great you are pen pals with them.”
Andrews told the senator that “we’ve been helping them practice English.”
After their presentation was over, Collins asked what the students were teaching other classrooms they visit around the country. The students listed the state capital, the state flower, state bird and other details about Maine.
“You know your facts about Maine,” Collins said.
Nearing the end of the video chat, some of the students asked the senator questions.
Caroline Blain, 8, asked Collins how she became a senator. Abby Lawrence, 8, wanted to know if she ever penned a bill that was signed into law by the president.
“It took a lot of hard work” to get elected, Collins said. “A majority of the people in the state have to vote for you.”
In her response to Lawrence, she listed a law that allows teachers to get tax breaks for supplies they buy to support students.
She ended by saying, “I love my job. I think it’s a great honor to represent the people of Maine.”
MacInnes’ students were very impressed with Collins.
“It was so cool meeting Senator Collins in person,” said Brent Roberts, 9.
“It was wowing,” said Alexa Richards, 9, who also uses Skype to keep in touch with a cousin serving in Afghanistan.
Olivia Fick, 9, said that it was the best experience of her life.
“It was so cool I think I almost passed out,” said Jordan Parkhurst, 8.