Students at Pasco's Robert Frost Elementary School flex their civic muscles

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 16, 2013 

Grates vs. tubes. The debate continued Tuesday in Linnea Banta's fifth-grade class long after her students wrapped up their mock government debate on what's better for getting fish around dams.

"The Senate wanted to do grates because we thought they were better," said 10-year-old "Senator" Alejandra Guzmn.

"Some of the senators actually agreed with me," said 11-year-old "Representative" Uriel Ramirez, who thought the tube system would be better for fish.

Banta said she was inspired to have her students, who are bilingual and designated as "highly capable," form a mock government after they struggled with a social studies unit about the structure of government.

The students formed three states based around their cluster of desks, elected representatives and senators and then debated a bill on whether to remove dams on the river or to modify them to help fish get around them.

Banta said she wanted to make the experience as real as possible, so in the middle of the debate some of the representatives had to run for re-election. Not all of them stayed in office.

That was the case with Roberto Zieyra, 10. He said he was ousted in favor of another classmate.

In the end, Banta said the students agreed to most aspects of the final bill -- the dams would remain, but a minimum of fish had to survive after passing over it, flood damage had to be prevented to nearby communities and cheap power was a priority.

But weeks after their bill passed, students still held strong feelings about how best to help fish survive the dams.

They agreed to try out each system on a different dam for a period of years and use the results to come to a decision. But that didn't stop the discussion.

"They definitely didn't want to give up their ideas," Banta said.

"We would have changed to (learning) science and math, and we'd still be talking about it," Alejandra said.

Principal Dominique Dennis said she was glad to see the students tackling the subject in such a hands-on way.

"Giving them a real-life scenario solidifies not only the lesson but also the vocabulary," she said.

Banta said her students had a newfound appreciation for the difficulties facing lawmakers.

And they later learned from a story in the Herald that they were debating something similar to what is being discussed in Congress.

"It was weird and awesome that Congress was discussing the same thing we were," Alejandra said.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service