Visiting the Statehouse: TAF Academy Students Shine
At TAF Academy we stress the importance of 21st century skills such as inquiry and collaboration, and we give students as many opportunities as possible to exercise those skills. Earlier this week the 11th & 12th grade students took a field trip to Olympia to see how government works. We have been working on a political campaigns project that has been ongoing for a few weeks, and we wanted to get some first-hand experience about how politics can affect the legislative process. We arrived in Olympia at the statehouse around 9:15 in the morning, where we were met by our tour guide, Gery Gerst. Some students had visited the capitol many times, and for some students this was their first ever visit to the statehouse. We were signed up for the legislative process tour, which none of the students had been on, so we were excited to see what was in store.
After spending much of the morning touring the building itself and learning how the history of the building tells us about the history of Washington, we finished up by visiting the two chambers to see where the senators and representatives do their work. After breaking for lunch we visited an actual committee hearing room and participated in a mock-committee hearing.
It was in this environment that TAF Academy students really shined.
The guides gave everyone a copy of a bill that is currently alive during the legislature’s special session. The proposed bill would allow employers to designate employees as “trainees” and pay them at 75% of minimum wage during that training period. The students read the bill, and proceeded to take on roles of the committee running the hearing and the roles of concerned citizens. A lively debate about social justice and the rights of employers vs. the rights of employees ensued. Not only did we expand our understanding of how law discussed in Olympia can have a direct effect on our lives, we also learned a great deal about the power of committee hearings in the legislature. The students were highly engaged in the process to the extent that we had to cut the committee hearing short in order to catch our bus back to school.
The student’s behavior and inquisitiveness was great to see, and it did not go unnoticed by our guides. We were told that we were one of the most interactive groups that had been on legislative tour. The guides complimented both the quality and quantity of our students’ questions, and said that our mock-committee hearing was the best one they have done since they started giving this tour. It was nice to hear such compliments, but not as nice as knowing that our students represented themselves and TAF Academy well while gaining a much deeper and nuanced understanding of how our government works.