Senator Keiser visits Pacific Middle School, discusses politics with students
Contributed by Abigail Gerken, Payton May, Taylor Nelson, Ashley Nyguen, & Polina Worthington
Photos by Zoe Cressi and Billien Tesefay
Last Wednesday (Jan. 6) 7th and 8th grade Pacific Middle School students got a rare opportunity to speak with Senator Karen Keiser.
For over three weeks, Pacific Leadership students studied numerous bills and prepared arguments that supported their opinions to read to Senator Keiser. Their goal of learning the legislative system, as well as getting educated on how to write to our state’s governmental leaders was apparently achieved.
“This event was really well done. The work shows how much they know already, the research and preparation they have done. What they have done is, well, impressive,” said onlooker and student guardian, Judy Marshall. Her daughter recently transferred out of Pacific due to a house move. “But, we came back specially for this event,” said Jasmine McDonnell. The students did not want to miss this chance because it was a chance to market their skills, something their teacher, Mrs. Muscolo, Jasmine explains “is always striving for them to work on for their future.”
The students did so well that Senator Keiser said, “Mrs. Muscolo, I would love to have all of your Leadership students come to Olympia as soon as possible. And, I invite them all to participate in our state’s Page program.” Multiple students were thrilled with that idea, including eighth grader Judah Meyering, who is already a local activist with the Des Moines Youth Council. “Ooh, ooh, me, me, please!” His seventh grade “mini-me”, Jacob Driscoll also sparked an idea to Senator Keiser’s offering, but so do nearly half of the students.
One particularly tenacious seventh grade student, Ellie Kawaguchi, informed us she has already been invited to be a Page. “I sent 19 letters before break to my committee members about House Bill 1164 about the student nutrition grant program, and more than a couple of them asked me to be a Page of theirs.”
With that, many students, including Polina Worthington said, “I will never forget that experience. I literally talked to a Senator. And, now I believe I can do anything.”
As one can imagine that kind of enthusiasm and outcome has ensured Mrs. Muscolo that this event will last students a lifetime. “Not just the rare few last year who had a chance to go so far as to present in Olympia (their first public and in-person speeches), but close to 57 students who worked just a little quicker this year,” said Mrs. Muscolo.
Because of their noteworthy work, the students are now members of Project Citizen, which is organized and managed by Kathy Hand. The program is an educational lottery win for the students because “they will receive civics textbooks and opportunities to show their legislative prowess as one of a select few schools who have been recognized and rewarded for their work,” says Kathy Hand. “The project is a state funded initiative that was provided a set amount of funds to devote to the project and Pacific Middle School has been selected to be a member.” “Incredibly, I have a zero dollar budget to do all that we do in leadership. The program and the opportunity to meet and compete with other programs is such an incredible opportunity. I am extremely grateful for this valuable resource,” said Mrs. Muscolo.
What are the next steps for this ambitious young group while they wait for the inevitable trip to Olympia? The next steps now are for our students to wait until January 11, 2016, the day of the ‘first session’ to hear when the bills will be presented. Students have already received an invite from her Honorable Keiser. And, Honorable Keiser’s wonderful and dedicated manager, Tara Jo Heineke, is already working with our students to get them to Olympia at the first foreseeable session based on the approximate 15 bills the students felt so passionate about. So, when we go to Olympia is anyone’s guess at this time.
In the meantime, students will be working with their lobbyists on their positions through TeachwithTVW.org. You will be able to view the session with Honorable Keiser on teachwithtvw.org, which is Washington State’s award winning website dedicated to extending the floor, so to speak, to cities outside Washington. You can imagine how a program like that can be so valuable for anyone desiring to make a difference. But, it also allows students the access to congress that strapped schools might not necessarily get, and that’s why it is such a great investment.
Other more adventurous students will further learn about the process ground-up through the petition process to see their movements become bill. Students are learning that will require 256 thousand plus signatures one month prior to the January 2017th first session. But, to students like Jacob Driscoll, “I can see the process now, but I understand it much better because I am actually doing it.”
Mrs. Muscolo added:
“I have many students say they are interested in an undertaking like that”, and, “that’s remarkable. One thing is certain, and it’s about all I can be certain about given the climate, is that the future is very bright for our Leadership students this calendar year. Senator Keiser’s trip to our school left us with so many instrumental gifts for our students’ future.”