SMCC class writes its way into State Sen. Mark Wagoner's schedule

SANDUSKY What started as a typical writing assignment for St. Mary Central Catholic High School stud
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



What started as a typical writing assignment for St. Mary Central Catholic High School students turned into a rare educational experience.

Steve Kohler's honors American Government class -- a college-level political science course -- impressed Mark Wagoner so much through its penmanship, the state senator asked permission to pay them a visit.

Kohler said state representatives have visited the school before, but never, as far as he knows, at their own request.

Every year the class writes letters to the state officials and then the federal and legislative representatives about political topics, he said.

"He phoned one of our students personally to talk to him about what he wrote," Kohler said. "His people contacted the staff and arranged something, and here we are. We're really excited about his being here."

Brandon Neese, a senior, was the first student to get a surprise call from Wagoner -- who recently was elected to his first full-term as a state senator serving west Lucas, Wood, Erie and Ottawa counties.

Neese's letter questioned Wagoner about the funding for higher education, something he, as a senior who's recently been accepted to the University of Toledo and BGSU -- both schools in Wagoner's districts -- is particularly interested in.

Wagoner, a Republican father of two from Toledo, spoke openly about his desire to create a strong and affordable education system in Ohio.

"I'm a big believer in higher education," he said. "Your key to success as a student is higher education. Nobody can predict what the need will be in 10 years. If you're not a smart, talented person, you're not going to be able to adapt to the changing environment. The key is higher education."

He said America has reveled in the success of the past 50 years of accomplishments, leaving other nations to catch up.

America is graduating 60,000 engineers with college degrees and China is graduating 600,000, he said. There's no question about it, America has the best universities in the world, but everyone else is catching up.

Wagoner said during his first years in office he helped freeze college tuition for two years and developed a $100 million scholarship fund.

"Education is always a topic of discussion in Ohio," he said. "We'll get there."

Wagoner asked the students what they felt were big issues.

Rachel Borne said the government needs to work at cutting its expenses.

Wagoner agreed.

Students asked about job losses, cell phones, casinos, candidate spending and voucher systems.

Taylor Bowers wrote her entire letter to Wagoner about texting while driving, something she and the senator both admitted to doing.

"Will it be a law?" she wrote.

Wagoner said several states have banned texting while driving -- and cell phones all together -- and he does see a law coming into effect in Ohio.

Though many of the students were mum in front of their classmates, Wagoner and Kohler said they were very "vocal" in their letters.

"A month and a half ago I started getting all of these letters from St. Mary Central Catholic students," Wagoner said. "All of you had so many great concerns, I thought it would be better to come out here and answer them in person. Yes, we really do read them. You have a chance to change things. If we don't hear from you, we don't know if it's an issue or not. It's your job to help us break down those barriers of communication."