In one room, there's talk of subsistence and the rural priority. Down the hall, the high school exit exam is being debated. But the discussion isn't among politicians at the Capitol. It's being led by students at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School.
Research of current Alaska issues by students in Amy Lloyd's social studies classes culminated last week in a series of debates on those topics. Among the debate moderators were local politicians and government officials, including state Sen. Kim Elton and state Rep. Bill Hudson.
Students worked together in groups to research the issues, then took sides and conducted the debates. One of the topics - particularly relevant to Juneau - was the capital move debate.
"We cannot afford anything as unnecessary as a capital move," sixth-grader Will Geiger said, noting there are too many other financial needs and the move would severely damage the Southeast economy.
"Juneau can survive with the (cruise ship passenger) head tax," countered eighth-grader Matt Josephson. "Every year more tourists are coming to Juneau."
Plus, he noted, "Anchorage can expand - it's not totally surrounded by mountains like Juneau."
Geiger, Josephson and the rest of the debaters received feedback on their performance from other students and the moderators.
Eighth-grader Jon Saceda, who debated the issue of helicopter noise in Juneau, said the project taught him a lot about both views.
"I first started out on the affirmative side, to eliminate (helicopter flights)," he said. "Now I realize how the helicopters provide important things instead of just providing noise."
Evelyn Fisher, a seventh-grader, had to oppose giving special-needs students additional help on the high school exit exam. She said it was tough for her to argue against the assistance because she thinks it should be given.
But, Fisher said, she learned "you should keep an open mind on an issue. I realized there were some pros and cons."
Elton, who moderated and gave feedback to debates on the capital move and the high school exit exam, said it was enjoyable to hear discussion of issues he faces day-to-day, but without the rhetoric that can hinder debate within government.
"I thought the discussion and debate was done at a high level," Elton said. "You saw the debate happen on the fundamental policies rather than emotion."
Hudson said it might be nice to have the students visit the Capitol and have legislators listen to their arguments for or against various issues.
"They knew their subjects on both sides, they knew the protocol," he said. "Maybe we would all learn something."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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