My Turn: Capitol visit teaches students importance of state government

For the second consecutive year, all of Juneau’s 8th graders (320 students) had an opportunity to learn how state government operates during Capital Students-Capitol Visits. This civics education program, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Juneau, was also supported by the Alaska Committee. 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 an entire grade of students from one school district.

 

Volunteer instructors who planned the program and led students in the day-long sessions were Joyanne Bloom, Laurie Berg, Peggy Cowan, Sally Donaldson, Kayla Epstein, Marjorie Menzi, Judith Mitchell, Chris Niemi, Bridget Smith, Nanci Spear, and Anne Ward. Teachers Jessica Collins (Dzanatik‘I Heeni Middle School) and Rebecca Goertzen (Floyd Dryden Middle School) also participated in the planning. 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. Sam Kito and Rep. Justin Parish all of whom made time to meet with the students and introduced them and their teachers on the Senate/House Floor. Thanks to all of the legislative staff particularly Jessie Kiel, Nicholas Bursell, Monica Todden, Jenny Martin and Laura Studolph. 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 truly educational experiences.

The role of the executive branch and the budget was ably explained by personnel from the Governor’s Office, Rebecca Braun and Caroline Schultz. Students were welcomed in the Cabinet Room with presentations by Lt. Governor Byron Mallott and his staff, Claire Richardson, Chief of Staff, Sig Topkok, and Kady Dumaguin with support from Shari Paul.

Observations of court arraignments were a highlight with Judge Kirsten Swanson and Judge Thomas Nave presiding over the sessions. 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 and The Alaska Committee which paid for the student/teacher bus transportation and copying costs associated with the program. The League of Women Voters of Juneau is working to institutionalize Capitol Visits to ensure that every Juneau student has knowledge of state government and a personal connection with what it means to live in the state capital.


Marjorie Menzi is volunteer coordinator and Chris Niemi is acting president of the League of Women Voters of Juneau.


 

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