Mike Franken at Sioux Center Middle School

Sioux Center native and retired Navy Vice Adm. Mike Franken told Sioux Center Middle School students about his background and tales from his career, including efforts to halt piracy off Africa’s east coast.

SIOUX CENTER—Sioux Center Middle School students had the opportunity Monday to learn a little about the life experiences and political views of a former Sioux Center student Michael Franken.

The retired Navy vice admiral, who is running as a Democrat in his bid for U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Joni Ernst, came to the middle school at the invitation of fifth-grade social students teacher Dan Van Ruler.

Several fifth- and eighth-grade students came up with questions to ask Franken during an assembly held at Te Paske Theater, with all of the middle school in attendance.

Some of the questions the students brought to him included why he is a Democrat; his thoughts on climate change, gun control and immigration; and things he’d like to change in Washington, D.C.

Franken also included a few stories of his, leading with his own background as a young boy who attended Sioux Center schools and eventually went into the military, following the advice of his brother.

He also told the students how as a military leader, he spoke out against the planned invasion of Iraq, lead the fight against African piracy and about some of the positive U.S. efforts he witnessed in Africa, such as increasing life expectancy and health.

Some of the questions the students brought to him included why he is a Democrat, his thoughts on climate change, gun control, immigration and things he’d like to change in Washington, D.C.

He told the students that as a man with almost 40 years of service in the military and some experience working in a more political capacity, he thought he had something to offer Iowans as a senator.

Franken added that most of those people they see on TV have lives like people they know.

“They’re just regular people,” Franken said. “They work hard in life and did pretty well in school. They took a lot of risks, but the key is they worked hard and came to those various positions. They’re not really any smarter than you are or me.”

When asked why he’s running as a Democrat, Franken pointed to the party’s willingness to bring about change.

“In the history of the U.S., the things that have really changed for us, such as electricity in rural America, clean air, clean water, such as Social Security, Medicare — those are all Democrat-induced efforts, and I want to be the idea person who pushes new things on society for the betterment of society at large,” he said.

Van Ruler credited the idea to invite Franken to the parent of one of his students.

“He mentioned how his son was coming home and sharing his excitement for some of the civics related topics and discussions that we’ve been having in class,” Van Ruler said.

That parent had recently met with Franken and thought it would be a great opportunity if the rest of the class could hear from a Sioux Center graduate who is running for office.

Van Ruler said authenticity in learning has been a goal of his.

The students are learning things like the Constitution, the separation of powers, federalism and civic participation, but allowing the students to have more active means of engaging with those lessons is helpful.

For the last three years, he’s had students write letters to local leaders or state representatives with questions or ideas they come up with.

“We’ve had some awesome responses from our school administrators, city leaders and even state senators like Randy Feenstra,” Van Ruler said. “Two weeks ago, Daryl Ten Pas, the city of Sioux Center finance director, spent the entire day in the fifth grade classroom presenting information and answering questions about our local government.”