Some teachers take their students on field trips to Washington, D.C. Rob Gutierrez brought Washington to his Pasco students.
Gutierrez (M.Ed. in ProTeach and Curriculum Development, and Educational Administration credentials, 2009), a Chiawana High School history and civics teacher, recently helped his students organize and host their first congressional debate ever held at an American high school.
According to Gutierrez, it all started with asking "what if." "We were studying the electoral process," he explained, "and as we discussed the upcoming congressional election, was asked, "What if we could actually talk to the candidates? What if we could actually ask them the questions we have? What if we invited the candidates to a debate?""
Soon the Chiawana High School 4th District Congressional Debate was on the calendar, and candidates Dan Newhouse and Clint Didier had even agreed to come.
Government Relevance to Life
"My students know how relevant history is and now they really understand how civic affairs affect us all, " said Gutierrez, who recently received the "Outstanding Civic Educator" award from the Washington State secretary of state. "I want them to see that what happens in our nation's capital today has a direct association with what happens in the Yakima Valley."
As the debate neared, the school’s social studies students were asked to submit questions. A final 10 questions were selected and then given to the speech and debate club to be categorized in order to ensure a good balance of questions.
As many of the student organizers and student body had not previously been of voting age, the students also partnered with the county auditor to set up a voter registration table.
On the evening of the debate, several hundred people were in attendance. Student speakers opened the debate, and the moderators were all speech students. Other than the two politicians, no adult or teacher ever took the stage, emphasized Gutierrez.
Gutierrez pointed out that his students covered all the issues important to voters in this year’s political race, including immigration, ISIS and Syria. “Our students are thinking about Hanford and that’s local; health care, which is a national issue; and ISIS and Syria, and that’s global,” he said.
Constructivist Approach at Work
The Chiawana High School students not only learned the issues, they learned that they can participate in government. In fact, said Gutierrez, “They’re on a roll.” For an example, he pointed to a recent event that hit close to home: a teachers’ strike that took their instructors, including their “Mr. G,” out of the classroom for several days.
The teachers’ strike got the students quite interested in education issues, recounted Gutierrez, and they responded by hosting an Oct. 1 debate between the president of the Pasco School Board and his challenger in the November general election.
Once again, the civic-minded students called the shots, and voter registration was made available. Seeing the students in action reminds Gutierrez of a concept he learned at Heritage.
“I remember first really delving into it in a class I had with Dr. (Jack) McPherson,” he said. “It’s the constructivist
approach — that we learn by doing.”
Gutierrez said that thanks to these experiences, his students are now poised to act further, in ways previous generations couldn't.
“They can literally communicate with the world because they go to social media and try to address the issues they learn about and care about,” he said. “Millennials are passionate about other people. When this generation sees an injustice, they’ll go to work to try to correct it. Now they know one really cool way they can take action.”
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