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South Jordan Journal

South Jordan Elementary students debate issues in mock legislative session

Jan 10, 2022 04:06PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It was more than learning Utah’s capitol building was constructed from granite mined in Little Cottonwood Canyon or that skylights that allow natural light to illuminate its marble hallways reduce electricity use. Or that the carpeting in the House of Representatives is green while the Senate has blue. Or even that Utah’s supreme court, which was housed in the capitol, once limited speaking times by using a red-and-green traffic light developed by Salt Lake City Police Officer Lester Wire.

This was a civics lesson a class of South Jordan Elementary fifth-grade students won’t likely forget.

Sitting in the actual House of Representatives chairs, these young leaders presented and debated bills which they had created in small groups in their classroom prior to the visit.

The bills, ranging from eliminating pizza from school lunches to social media restrictions for minors were presented by a student in each group, speaking into the microphone at a representative’s desk. After being addressed by a mock Speaker of the House, each student who wanted to could speak in favor or against the issue. When it became necessary, the students even learned how to amend the bill, as was the case with extending school hours. Then, they selected a button on the voting pads to cast their decision which was publicly displayed in the chamber.

Their teacher, Diane Witt-Roper, said this was “perfect timing” because they already were studying the history of government and why and how government works. It was the first time her class has participated in a mock session there in addition to a docent tour.

“It is fun to teach this age when they are starting to understand the aspects of life that you don’t always get your way and how you can compromise and what does compromise mean,” she said. “It’s not just go up to the capitol and walk around; it’s really kind of get to know more about the government aspect of it, which is what I’m teaching right now with fifth-grade curriculum.”

Fifth-grader Avery Gee, who spoke about how cyberbullying can result in “kids not feeling good inside,” said that she learned more about the procedures in introducing and amending bills.

“We had to consider if we wanted to support a bill or not and even if we want restrictions with those bills we introduced,” she said. “It was a fun experience to be able to speak out and share our opinions. It’s something I’ll remember.”

Her classmate, Evan Esplin, debated several issues, including wanting to amend earthquake preparedness day to be four times per year instead of just once. 

“It’s fun we got to see how it really works,” he said, adding that he believes that a bill should be introduced in the “real” House of Representatives about regulating the cost of college, making it free or less expensive. “We need college to get a really good job, but not everyone can afford to go. If we make it cost just enough to pay professors and stuff that we need to pay, then, it would be more affordable to everyone and help to educate our society.”

Being able to think and speak their opinions and apply it to aspects of their lives, and valuing that opportunity, are some of the reasons state Rep. Susan Pulsipher personally invited the class to the capitol.

“I was impressed with their level of thinking and to see how they were able to quickly pick up on the process and debate issues and apply it,” she said. “They learned to follow the rules, which create opportunities for deep, thoughtful discussion in a respectful way and they were more effective because of those procedures. The best part was watching them think and gain this knowledge. I hope they now understand how our government works, which is so important, and I hope they have that appreciation for it.”

Jordan Board of Education President Tracy Miller also was on hand to witness the students’ mock session.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “The kids understood the process. None of this was scripted; they came up with their own bills and arguments. They got to sit here in the real House of Representative seats and have these discussions and see the process, how it really works.”

Miller said that it was “a good mix of fun and serious legislation” that were presented with “robust” conversations.

“These kids are smart and have a lot more knowledge than people often expect,” she added.

Fifth-grader Gibson Wursten said it was an “amazing” first visit to the capitol.

“It’s cool to not only see this building, but to remember we presented bills at the Utah State capitol,” Gibson said. “We made decisions and can do that again in our future.”