WILTON – Academy Hill School principal Darlene Paine addressed the chattering students.
“Her bus just pulled up outside,” she told the students. There were gasps and a collective “wow.”
U.S. Senator Susan Collins visited AHS today, part of a tour across parts of Franklin County. Visiting schools is a specialty for the three-term senator, who tells her young listeners about growing up in Caribou and takes questions from the audience. This visit, state Rep. Thomas Saviello (U – Wilton) noted, was a rare treat for the area.
“I think she may be the first senator to come to Wilton,” Saviello said, “and she’s definitely the first to come to Academy Hill.”
Collins talked about growing up in Aroostook County, describing the three-week vacation school children took to help their parents pick potatoes.
“What I learned from that experience was how much you could accomplish when everyone works together,” Collins said. “I try to bring that same idea to Washington, but it’s a little harder than picking potatoes.”
Collins spoke to the importance of a good education, working hard and believing in yourself, telling children to not let what other people say or temporary setbacks discourage them from “following their dreams.” She used the 1994 governor’s election, where she and Democratic nominee Governor George Brennan lost to the Independent nominee Angus King as an example.
Collins is up for reelection this year, running for her seat against Democratic challenger U.S. Representative Tom Allen. One student inadvertently brought the race up after they incorrectly answered Collins’ question: “Can anyone name the other Maine senator?”
“Tom Allen?” the student asked.
“No, he serves in the House of Representatives. He’d like to be though, ” Collins said, prompting chuckles from some of the audience. “But he isn’t right now, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
Students asked questions they developed, with the subject matter varying from speed limits, gun control, pollution and climate change and health care. Collins later praised both the parents and teachers for the quality of the students’ knowledge of national issues.
“Maybe one day, one of you will become a U.S. senator,” Collins told the students, “I’d love that. But wait until I retire, OK? Don’t run too soon.”
Afterwards, Collins addressed a few questions from a group of Mt. Blue High School students from the honors government class. She spoke about her recent vote in favor of an economic rescue plan designed to shore up a struggling financial system.
“I am so angry that our country is in this situation,” Collins said, blaming a variety of factors for the recent meltdown. “What I’ve concluded, what top economists have told me, is that we must act.” She went on to say that “if this is not passed, I believe we’re going to have a depression. Literally, a depression.”
Collins also addressed last evening’s vice presidential debate between U.S. Senator Joseph Biden and Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin.
“I thought [Palin] did well,” Collins said, “I was sort of on pins and needles, but I thought she did well.”
Collins said that she could relate to Palin’s background, having both come from small communities in primarily rural areas of the country.
Collins also spoke to the importance of keeping good jobs in Maine. She noted that she was working with a 20-senator task force to develop a comprehensive energy bill, and that more affordable energy prices would help keep local mills open. She also briefly addressed AHS teachers with her ideas to amend the No Child Left Behind Act.
“It doesn’t take into account a lot of issues,” Collins said. “I always have thought it was unfair to ask children to meet goals that they can’t possibly meet,” addressing the “100 percent proficiency” aspects of the bill. Collins said that a bill she introduced, which would modify NCLB with more realistic assessments and more flexibility would be taken up next year.