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Draper Journal

APA students visit capitol, days before Utah shuts down, earthquake hits

Jul 13, 2020 12:07PM ● By Julie Slama

An American Preparatory Academy student holds the gavel on the House floor during the seventh-graders recent visit to the state capitol building. (Photo courtesy of American Preparatory Academy)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It was the background that resulted in a crash course of the power and responsibilities of the state government.

As part of the curriculum at American Preparatory Academy, seventh-graders visit the state capitol building for a tour, observe the house and senate from the gallery, learn about the branches of government, participate in a mock committee and if they’re fortunate, have the opportunity to meet their legislative leaders.

“It’s a chance for seventh-graders to get a feel how government works and see it, talk about it and grasp what it means,” said Jenny Stratton, character development director of APA Draper 3 campus.

This year, however, the Draper students may have also observed a little different look as their visit was just three days before Gov. Gary Herbert ordered a soft closure of schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The West Valley APA students visited the capitol two days later and weren’t admitted into the governor’s office. Just 30 minutes after their failed attempt, Herbert addressed the state.

Elisha and McKenna Wong were among the 220 Draper seventh-graders who got a chance to see how government works in person.

“We took a tour and sat in the house where they were discussing the possibility of lowering the price of insulin,” McKenna said. “I saw the governor walk by, talking to people.”

The girls had walked through the capitol in fifth grade and also participated in the school’s legislative day where they learned about voting, who is their senator and representative, learn about bills that are being discussed and what committees are meeting, but being at the capitol in person was impactful.

“It was pretty cool to see the senate and house in session and hear their arguments,” McKenna said.

Her twin sister said that during the visit, they observed different groups advocating for museums.

March 10, the day they visited, was Museums Advocacy Day, the day when museums from around the state descend on Capitol Hill to talk to their legislators about the crucial role museums play in the community, and to give Capitol regulars and visitors a peek at their collections and programs.

“It was cool to see different museums and learn about them,” she said.

Elisha also appreciated learning about the capitol, including the lavish gifts and furnishings in the Gold Room (the state reception room) and that the windows are bulletproof. 

“It’s an important room. It’s where guests and delegates from other countries come,” she said.

Their tour also included learning about how recently the capitol added seismic base isolators to improve safety and protect against earthquake damage.

“We learned that the foundation will just sway with the earthquake,” McKenna said, looking back to realize that just eight days after her visit, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake would hit along the Wasatch Front.

Many of the things they saw, they later learned their significance as the days to come unfolded. However, that day, they wrote down what they observed from bills talked about on the house floor to learning the roles lobbyists play. 

“It’s good exposure for the students,” Stratton said. “They can actually go see what’s going on, meet people and learn what bills they’re working on. They learn what bills are trying to be pushed this session or what they want to work on next session and realize they’re actually working on things important to them.”

The students also took part in a mock committee where they were given a scenario—should cell phones be allowed in schools—and presented their case for and against the issue. 

This helped them to look at both sides of issues such as the clean air bill and vaping in school.

APA ninth-graders also go to the capitol for a more in-depth visit, she said.

The idea of the APA student capitol visits originated 13 years ago with Catherine Findlay, who is the charter school’s district character development director.

According to Stratton, it’s part of an overall picture where each year, students give back to the community through service from clearing weeds from cemeteries to helping with youngsters in Head Start Programs and seniors in care centers.

“They learn it’s their duty to be part of the community, see and know all aspects of how it works, and to give back,” she said. “It’s a great program and opportunity to visit the capitol. I didn’t realize when I was growing up how much access the average citizen has—to go into committee meetings, sit in the gallery, talk to people who represent us. Now, they’re more aware, more civic-minded and will understand more when they follow what’s going on with our state.”