During the current legislative session, all 360 of Juneau’s 8th graders had an opportunity to learn how state government operates during Capitol Visits: A Civics Education Initiative sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Juneau. The field trips to observe the work of the legislative, executive and judicial branches were described by many teachers and students as an “awesome” experience. Thanks go to all of the individuals who shared their expertise and time to help educate our young people in the democratic system of government and who made the program a success. While we risk not mentioning everyone who was involved, we want to especially thank the following individuals who extended themselves for the monumental task of hosting fourteen groups of students from one school district.
Volunteer instructors Joyanne Bloom, Mary Hakala, Chris Niemi and Bridget Smith helped to plan the program and led students in the day-long sessions. Teachers Jamie Marks (Floyd Dryden Middle School) and Jessica Collins (Dzanatik ‘I Heeni Middle School) also participated. Capitol Visits would not have happened without these key individuals.
Visits to the Capitol were personalized by sessions with the Juneau legislative delegation; Sen. Dennis Egan; Rep. Cathy Munoz and Rep. Sam Kito made time to meet with the students and introduced both them and their teachers on the Senate and House Floor. Rep. Newman and Rep. Thompson made the House Finance Committee Room available to the students for interactive activities. Thanks also go to legislators from throughout the state who were gracious in welcoming the students and often took time to talk with them.
Thanks to all of the legislative staff particularly Jessie Kiel, Peter Naoroz, Nicole Gorle, Bianca Carpeneti, Tally Teal, Ginger Blysdale and Gary Zepp. Also to House Sgt. of Arms, Micaela Bradner, and Grace Ellsworth, Senate Sgt of Arms who, along with their staff, made visits to the House and Senate Galleries and tours through the Capitol truly educational experiences.
The role of the executive branch was ably explained by personnel from the Governor’s Office; Rebecca Braun, Policy Analyst, and Heather Parker, intern. Students were welcomed in the Cabinet Room with presentations by Lt. Governor Byron Mallott and his staff, Claire Richardson, Chief of Staff and Barbara Blake, Special Staff Asst. to the Lt Governor, with support from Shari Paul and Janice Mason.
Observations of court arraignments were a highlight of the day with Judges Keith Levy and Thomas Nave and District Magistrate Sharon Heidersdorf presiding over the sessions. Tom Wagner and Sharri Layne demonstrated the roles of the defense and prosecuting attorneys during real life arraignments. Thanks also to Sue Lebeau, who helped facilitate students’ attendance in the Court Room.
The field trips were made possible with a grant from the Education Fund of the League of Women Voters of Alaska which paid for the student/teacher bus transportation and printing costs associated with the program. The League of Women Voters of Juneau plans to institutionalize Capitol Visits to ensure that every Juneau student has a personal connection with what it means to live in the state capital and knowledge of state government.
Marjorie Menzi, Coordinator
Capitol Visits: An Educational Initiative of the LWVJ