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Sixth graders at Playa del Rey Elementary send letters to Governor Ducey and Mayor Peterson

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Two sixth grade students, a boy and girl, pose with envelopes inside their classroom at Playa del Rey Elementary.

Gilbert Public Schools students are taking the lessons that they learn in the classroom and applying them at home and in their local communities. Recently, sixth grade students at Playa del Rey Elementary engaged in civic participation by writing letters to Governor Doug Ducey and Gilbert Mayor Brigette Peterson. The letters discussed Arizona’s drought and what the students believe can be done to slow the effects of it.

“To me, the most important part of the whole thing is that at some point in life you are going to find a topic that you care about. I want them to feel like they can do something about it, and their voice does count,” said Rachel Holderbach, a sixth grade Science and History teacher at Playa del Rey. 

Holderbach partnered with Michele Woods, a sixth grade English Language Arts teacher, to develop a comprehensive and engaging class project for the students. They learned new vocabulary words, how to read the U.S. Drought Monitor map, how to research credible sources, some practical ways to conserve water at home, and much more. As part of the project, students wrote letters to lawmakers and an informative essay to support their claims.

“We were trying to focus on cause and effect. It’s really hard for sixth graders to understand those two, so this is a great topic to do that,” Holderbach said, “It was something that they could get a hold of, write about, and be able to compare and understand the issue as it relates to Arizona.”

Class discussion topics included the drought’s impact on farming, health, wildfires, and temperatures. Holderbach and Woods really focused on making sure the lesson felt relevant to the students’ lives. They also wanted their students to feel a sense of purpose and feel empowered to do something about it.

“We found that it is important now more than ever that kids feel seen and heard,” Woods said.

A letter from Arizona Governor Doug Ducey addressed to a sixth grade student lies on a table inside Playa del Rey Elementary.
The students also gained practical life skills, like learning how to write a formal business letter and address an envelope. When it came to writing their essay, the students learned the O.R.E.O. method, where they identified the differences between opinions, reasons, and factual evidence. They also learned how to pass on their new knowledge. Holderbach and Woods say the students did activities with kindergarten and third grade students at Playa del Rey to show them how easy it is to conserve water at home.

“It’s really powerful whether you are writing about it, or having conversations about it,” Holderbach said. 

Governor Ducey has already started responding individually to the students’ letters. Woods says he’s been encouraging to them, and he’s also shared what legislative action he’s taking to help protect Arizona’s water resources. Both teachers believe that the response letters and the overall lesson show students that they can make a difference by speaking up.

“This is life. One of the easiest things to do is find the problem and talk about how it’s bad, but by going further and doing research to learn more, you will find solutions,” Woods said, “I think every district in the state could benefit from a lesson like this.”

To learn more about Playa del Rey Elementary, schedule a school tour or enroll today!


Written by Kailey Latham