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South Valley Journal

Vice presidential debate question inspired by a book

Nov 05, 2020 12:25PM ● By Jet Burnham

Victoria Peck learns about people with different experiences than her own through reading a variety of books. (Photo courtesy of Vanessa Peck)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Eleven-year-old Victoria Peck had a question for the vice presidential candidates. She was one of four Utah students whose question was selected as an option for the moderator to ask during the vice-presidential debate held in Salt Lake Oct 7.

Victoria’s question, which didn’t end up being used, was: “What will you do to help these migrant workers that do so much for our country?” I have a home that I love and have settled in. I want migrant worker children to have a home that they can settle in too. All children deserve to be safe and happy.

Victoria, a fifth grader at Midas Creek Elementary, has lived in the same house in Riverton her whole life and has never met a migrant worker. But she did read a book about it.

“In my class, I read a story about a migrant worker girl, and it really just showed me that these people need help,” Victoria said.

“Amelia's Road,” by Linda Jacobs Altman, was a language arts assignment. However, Victoria’s teacher, Sherri Morrill, often selects literature that incorporates lessons on social studies, civics or social and emotional learning.

“Reading stories from diverse backgrounds gives students insight and understanding into others’ life experiences,” Morrill said.

Victoria’s mother, Vanessa Peck, similarly encourages her daughter to read books from a variety of perspectives. 

“She may never get to meet someone like Amelia, but we can meet them through stories,” Vanessa said. “I think that gives us so much more empathy and compassion for people that are different than us and helps us with unity in our community.”

Peck was 4 years old when her parents immigrated to the U.S. from New Zealand for education opportunities. Her family received help from a welcoming and supportive community.

“They didn't have to help us, but they did,” Peck said. “I think there's always been this feeling of being kind to others and giving them a chance, because we just don't know where people are in their life.”

Being raised in that environment, Victoria has developed empathy for others.

“She's very compassionate, and she loves little children,” Peck said. “I think that's why the story appealed to her so much, because she saw a little child that was hurting and that there are children that don't have a house all the time. They’re constantly moving, constantly at different schools. I think that really touched her heart.”

When Morrill assigned her students to enter the statewide essay contest of the Utah Debate Commission calling for a 300-word essay explaining what question they would ask the vice-presidential candidates, Victoria considered asking a question about wildfires. But the situation of migrant workers in the story she’d read weeks earlier was still on her mind.

“I haven't had many of those experiences, but sometimes we just need to look out for people who are maybe having a hard day,” Victoria said. “And I really like to help people and comfort people.”

One of Morrill’s goals as a teacher is to create educated and involved citizens.

“The debate contest aligned perfectly with this goal,” she said. “Students were each able to investigate topics of importance to them and use their voice to ask a question.”

She was thrilled when Victoria’s question was one of four finalists selected out of 700 entries.

“It gives all of us motivation to share our questions and thoughts and know that they can be heard,” she said.

Victoria’s involvement in the debate opened up family discussions about politicians, hard-to-solve problems and civil discourse.

“None of these questions that the children asked were easy questions to answer,” Vanessa said. “I think it's good to encourage discussion and to discuss politely.” 

Only one of the final four essay winners—Brecklynn Brown, an eighth grader from Springville Junior High—had her question used in the debate. She asked: “How is your presidency going to unite and heal our country?”