The Petal High School Ambassadors – a group of students who engage in on- and off-campus activities to promote the Petal School District to visitors, business partners, alumni, students and families – recently got to sit in on the lawmaking process during a Jan. 20 field trip to the Mississippi State Capitol building in Jackson.
The trip, which took place during the 2021 legislative session, allowed the ambassadors – who are part of the Petal Education Foundation – to visit and ask questions with members of the Mississippi Legislature. As the ambassadors group consists of high school juniors and seniors, the trip takes place every other year to give both those classes the opportunity for the experience.
“It’s just to get our kids associated with their home state,” said Leahne Lightsey, director of the Petal Education Foundation. “I know they studied Mississippi history, but it’s not like walking through and getting it first-hand.
“There’s nothing like hands-on learning, in my opinion. And it gets them acquainted with their senators and their representatives; many of them are turning 18 that are ready to vote, and they need to know what it’s all about.”
The ambassadors arrived in Jackson at around 9:30 a.m., at which point the group took a tour of the capitol building.
“Our tour guide was fantastic,” Lightsey said. “She talked about the architecture of the building, and pointed out lots of different features that folks who just casually look at pictures or stroll through on their own would not get the benefit (of).
“We felt like privileged folks today, because we got to go down on the floor. We went to the Senate side and to the House side, and the House was not gathering today. They exited pretty quickly after opening remarks, because they had committee meetings to attend to.”
While at the capitol, members of the ambassadors were able to ask questions of the legislators. As it turns out, one of the students’ cousins is a member of the Mississippi Senate.
“Of course, after they made the connection, they took great pains with us and talked a little deeper,” Lightsey said. “Senator (John) Polk came out – he was at one time our Petal senator – and talked with us, and we had a picture with him.
“We just felt very honored to be around those folks. They were so gracious to us, and just complementary of our students and their appearance and their behavior. I made it a point to remind them that we’re the number one school district in the state – that’s stuff they already know, but it was fun to brag about that.”
The group left the capitol building at around 11 a.m. and had lunch before visiting the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame & Museum.
“They had a wonderful time there; it was a great tour,” Lightsey said. “Then you get to participate in different kinds of virtual games.
“On the way back, we planned another project, but we’re going to keep that in the bag for now. That’ll come out in the next two or three weeks, what we’re going to do.”
Lightsey said she already is looking forward to going back to Jackson with the ambassadors in 2024.
“We don’t know if the timing will work out right, but we kind of had a little brainstorm about catching the train in Hattiesburg to Meridian,” she said. “Then we could get off and walk the two blocks down to the (Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience).
“We could tour that, then take them to eat, board the train and come back. We’re just kind of bouncing that around as a fun day.”