Future leaders debate issues at state capitolNov 22, 2021 11:30AM ● By Jet Burnham
Sixth grade students debate issues in a practice legislative session on the house floor. (Photo courtesy of Jordan School District.)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Should ice cream be the official state dessert? Should pizza be removed from school lunch menus? These were topics of debate on the legislative floor at the state capitol Sept. 29. The special mock session was for a small group of sixth graders from three local Herriman elementary schools who debated and voted on these issues as part of a field trip sponsored by Herriman District 52 Rep. Candice Pierucci.
“Our goal is helping them see the process in a very personal way and have a hands-on experience and hopefully a memorable one,” Pierucci said. “It’s one thing to learn about politics in a textbook and by watching “Schoolhouse Rock” but it's a totally different experience to actually be able to participate in a mock legislative session.”
After a tour of the building, students learned the basics of the policymaking process and Robert's Rules of Order. Then they used legislators’ own seats, microphones and voting pads to debate and vote on issues such as official state desserts, school lunch menu items, school start times and mental health. The Speaker of the House even stopped in to meet with the students.
“I've been [to the capitol] on tours with students before,” said Spencer Jacobs, student leadership advisor at Herriman Elementary. “It's always been fun and they've always been impressed by the building. But when they actually went on the floor and sat in the chairs and acted like they were doing the process, it was pretty cool. I'd never seen that before.”
Jordan District Associate Superintendent Michael Anderson was excited that district students were invited to participate by their local representative.
“It was so exciting to watch these future leaders engage in the process,” he said. “In my mind’s eye, I was able to see them in a few years sitting in those chairs as elected leaders, making our schools, cities, state and nation a better place. As I watched the debate unfold it was evident to me that they are more than up to the task.”
Pierucci was also impressed by the students’ persuasive arguments. One girl in particular stood out to her.
“She was a little spitfire,” Pierucci said. “She wanted to be an attorney someday and you could just tell she was a born leader.”
The girl reminded Pierucci of herself, when she was a student leader at Herriman Elementary and “probably a little bit more outspoken than most sixth-graders.” That was in 2003. Pierucci continued to serve in leadership positions and political internships and is now Utah’s youngest representative.
She encouraged students not to let their age deter them from being involved in their community. Additionally, she told them to exercise their courage muscle. “You become more courageous the more you do it,” she said. “And so we talked about the importance of standing up for others and standing up to bullies.”
Jacobs said his students were very receptive to Pierucci’s message.
“They want to lead the way of being the nice people—smiling, being kind, being helpful, pointing out and encouraging others when they see them doing it,” he said.
Part of the role of Herriman Elementary student leaders is to lead by example and promote the school-wide kindness program, which encourages students to report when they see someone being kind. They also introduce assemblies, assist with picture day, take new students on school tours and clean up the school grounds.
Jacobs said the experience at the capitol gave students an understanding of the give and take of politics. Pierucci hopes they learned the appropriate way to engage in the policymaking process, which is to get involved early in the process on issues they care about by attending a committee hearing instead of waiting for a decision and then protesting it.