Civics Club at Somerset launched its inaugural year this year, with the support of Principal Tara Gray, leadership from fourth grade teachers Barbara Pastorelli and Linda Myrick, and acceptance to TVW’s Capitol Classroom in Olympia.
Somerset is the first and only elementary school in the state accepted to participate in Capitol Classroom, a program designed to give students a voice and opportunity to participate directly in the state legislative process. According to Capitol Classroom, their goal is to “provide a rich and immersive learning experience by investing students in the process and connecting them with professionals in Olympia.”
“I really like social studies and I’m really into it,” said fourth grade Civics Club member Lucas Edwards. His interest and passion for the subject peaked his curiosity of Civics Club, and influenced him to join.
Every two weeks, Somerset Civics Club participates in Capitol Classroom by having students speak with the club’s assigned lobbyist, Briahna Taylor. They do so through Google hangout so it’s a real time video chat. Taylor explains what is happening in Olympia and students are able to engage and ask questions.
At Somerset’s first club meeting, fourth and fifth graders selected which bill they wanted to follow during the legislative session. Collectively, they chose House Bill 1646, the Equal Pay Opportunity Act.
As students follow the bill through the House and the Senate, they are encouraged to email their legislators to support, oppose or amend the bill.
Myrick explained to students the importance of contacting legislators and said, “What we’re trying to do in Civics Club, is get you to understand what power you (students) have as citizens. You need to let your representatives know how you feel.”
Students can continue to follow the bill at home by watching floor debates between Democrats and Republicans so they fully understand both party’s views.
During her floor speech on March 11, introducing her bill, Senator Tana Senn mentioned Somerset student Jeenah Gwak and the email she received from Gwak. In the week following the floor debate on the bill, Senn joined Civics Club and said, “I want to personally thank you and your class because I heard from so many people the number of emails they got from kids and I’m assuming they are from you!”
Club members then had the opportunity to ask Senn any question about the bill. Students asked about the impact the bill would have on businesses and lawsuits against businesses, what Republicans would want to see added or removed from the bill to make it pass and how Senn recognized that this bill needed to be addressed.
Senn answered each students’ well thought out questions and said that overall, “I think this is one of those bills that most people are actually for the idea.” It’s the details of the bill that opponents would like amended.
She concluded the session with students by emphasizing her appreciation. She said, “thank you so much for all of your interest and all of your work on this bill. You have really, truly made a difference.”
Both teachers hope to have Civics Club next year. And students are looking forward to future Civics Clubs too. When students were asked if they would participate again it was a resounding, “Yes!”