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Horizon students meet Utah leaders at Capitol

Apr 09, 2018 04:34PM ● Published by Julie Slama

After Horizon students meet Gov. Gary Herbert, they pose by his cardboard cut-out in the state capitol. (Merissa Graves/Horizon Elementary)

Sixth-grader Curtis Sandstrom jumped at the chance to attend Parent-Teacher-Student Association Day at the capitol when it was offered to him.

“I want to join the military and fight for our country so I want to learn about the country’s laws and rules so I know how to protect us,” Curtis said, adding that his uncle served as an Air Force lieutenant colonel and his grandfather was a master sergeant in the Army. 

Through a day of planned activities—from observing the representatives and senators in action to exploring statues on the grounds—Curtis realized from Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox speaking to 318 participants on Feb. 7 that he can be involved in the government now, that he doesn’t have to wait until he’s older.

“Lieutenant Governor Cox talked about how often questions are taken to the government and what is being done to address some of the concerns now, like cyberbullying,” Curtis said. “He said that being in government isn’t always easy, but it’s up to the next generation to get involved to help shape our nation’s future. He said that if there are problems I’m concerned about, I could write my representative.” 

Curtis said he’s thinking of writing his representative, asking, “What can we do to make life better for the president and ourselves?” 

“I have an idea. If he (the president) could go out in random cities to see what is going on, then he’d have a general idea of what is happening. Right now, it’s like the game telephone where the message starts right, but it ends up being all wrong. If he went out for himself, it won’t get screwed up and people would respect him for that,” he said.

Cox said that he wanted students to realize how important the 45-day legislative session is to students.

“It impacts their lives, and I hope they get involved,” he said. “I want them to meet their legislators and talk to them about big issues and share their ideas. Few people actually talk to legislators, especially students, and this is their opportunity to make an impact on their world and future.”

Curtis, who said touring the Capitol also worked toward the Boy Scout Duty to Your Country merit badge, also participated in a mock debate about whether cell phones should be allowed to be used at school.

“I said, ‘yes,’ so students could call 911 in case the teacher phone is unavailable,” he said. 

Utah PTA Student Involvement Commissioner Betty Shaw said that through the debate, conducted by state auditor John Dougall and Rep. Ryan Wilcox, students were learning both sides of the issue.

“We want students to gain a better perspective and be able to see both sides to every issue; they may learn something from the other side instead of just seeing their side,” Shaw said. “We want to get the kids to understand what goes on (at the Capitol), how laws are enacted or changed and how it affects them. We want them to start having conversations about current issues so they can get involved.”

Shaw, who said she had no idea about her state’s government while growing up, said she hoped students got “a flavor of what is going on and see part of their history.” 

“They’re our future so they need to see the process and how it works. It would be great to see them get involved in issues they have concerns about, if not at the capitol then locally with their school board or local district agencies and city councils,” she said.

Curtis wasn’t the only student who has recently visited the capitol. 

Rep. Bruce Cutler, who represents District 44, which includes Murray, invited about 100 Horizon fifth-graders to tour the Capitol.

While expecting a routine tour, some fifth-graders got a surprise—a firsthand meeting with the state governor, Gary Herbert.

“We were touring the governor’s office when he walked out on the way to a conference,” fifth-grade teacher Merissa Graves said. “He gave the kids some high fives, a couple handshakes and talked to the kids as he walked by. Our tour guide said that it’s rare to see him, so we were really lucky.”

Graves said that she was taken aback by actually meeting the governor, that she didn’t have time to get her camera ready. Instead, they posed next to the cardboard cut-out of him and Lt. Gov. Cox to remember the encounter.

“It’s something we will all remember, so when we come to our government unit, the experience will stand out,” she said. “We didn’t see his press conference, but we did see all the cameras set up for it in the Gold Room.”

Their tour also included watching representatives and senators on the floor discussing current bills, having a mock trial in the Supreme Court and learning the process of a bill passing into a law. 

The students also learned about the discussion involving exchanging the statue of Philo T. Farnsworth in the Capitol in Washington, D.C. with one of Mary Hughes Cannon, which at press deadline, was currently on the governor’s desk for consideration.

“The day made it come alive for the students and they realize there’s people up there representing them and their concerns,” Graves said.   

Education, Today

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