Merkley visits after-school program, helps solve homework debate

“If I were the senator and I had homework, I would choose just one piece of homework, one day a week,” says Macen Richards, a third-grade student at Hiteon Elementary School.

When U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley visits and asks the students what kinds of changes they’d like to see at their school, hands shoot in the air and a variety of suggestions are made. Something should be done about bullying, someone says. We should take more field trips, says another. When one student suggests more math, the majority of students enthusiastically agree. When another proposes longer recesses, a quiet murmur of agreement fills the room.

On the issue of homework, however, the classmates are clearly divided. Some think adding more is a great idea; others think there should be significantly less. As they voice their opinions (“More homework!” “Less homework!”), Merkley uses the moment to teach the kids about the voting system – explaining how sometimes, when different people want different things, the fairest thing to do is vote and see what the majority wants.

The kids listen with enthusiasm and earnestness. When Merkley finishes his explanation and opens the floor up for more questions, they want to know where he was born (Myrtle Creek) and the age of his children (12 and 14). They are thankful for his lesson, thankful for his time. Still, there’s something else they want to get to now.

“I think that carnivals are really cool,” Richards says a few minutes later, holding up the tickets he won tossing beanbags into cardboard cutouts.

“Are you going to win me a bunch of prizes?” his father, Scott, asks.

Macen looks at his dad like he’s crazy. “Did you earn these tickets?” he asks.

Scott smiles. The point is taken. Macen goes around the room, stopping at different stations to try his hand at winning more tickets. There’s popcorn and apple juice to munch and sip on, plenty of other kids to talk to, and a variety of activities to try.

Sen. Merkley’s visit marks a special day here at Champions (, an after-school program designed to assist working families and help children to learn and stay safe. Merkley is here to help the kids celebrate Lights on Afterschool, a nationwide rally for after-school programs organized by the Afterschool Alliance (

Across the country, events are planned to feature the diverse after-school activities and showcase the benefits of after-school programs. More than 7,500 communities and 1 million Americans celebrate Lights On Afterschool every year.

For Champions, this means a carnival and a sit-down with the U.S. senator. For Merkley, the event is a way for him to show his support for programs that provide kids with activities and supervision after school hours.

“It’s a national effort to highlight the importance of after-school programs as part of elementary education, so this was an opportunity to come and learn a little about that issue and also to express my belief, as a member of the health and education committee, that this is a very important component,” says Merkley.