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When students speak, Inslee listens

KINGSTON — He may be a congressman with a degree in economics from the University of Washington, but U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee (D—Bainbridge Island) is still wrangling for high school credits. On his first trip to the brand-new Kingston High School on Monday, Inslee was wide-eyed and suitably impressed with the new facility, its staff and its bells and whistles — and just a tad fixated on the “bouncing cheese” in the cafeteria.

The bulk of Inslee’s visit was spent teaching an impromptu civics lesson to Kim Smith’s U.S. history class. “You are my bosses and I work for you,” he told students.

Inslee set the stage for and conducted a mock congressional and presidential election. He outlined some issues currently facing the country: the war in Iraq, the lack of adequate health care coverage, a possible recession and the rise of childhood obesity.

Classroom volunteers offered their ideas for America, which ranged from mandating the use of electric cars to Paris Hilton serving pizza in KHS’s cafeteria.

Inslee was impressed by the mock candidates’ views on health insurance.

“What impressed me about the candidates is that you all talked about the need to improve access,” Inslee said. “None of you said ‘You shouldn’t do anything, it’s good enough.’ ”

He had similar praise for the student’s views on the environment, saying the current generation is “brighter, tougher and healthier” than his generation of baby boomers.

“All the (mock) candidates showed an interest in doing something about (global warming). There are still a lot of people where I work, in the House of Representatives, who still don’t want to do anything. They want to stick their heads in the sand and ignore it,” he said.

The school pizza’s “kind of rubbery” cheese was a frequently mentioned issue among the mock candidates. The lower-fat cheese is a result of the district’s crack-down on unhealthy food to help battle childhood obesity, said Chris Case, North Kitsap School District’s director of Communications and Community Relations. This federally mandated battle also resulted in soda being removed from vending machines.

Preceding the classroom visit, Principal Christy Cole took Inslee on a personalized tour of the new building while fielding his questions about the building’s energy efficiency and unique design. Cole assured him from design to day-to-day operations, the school is as “green,” or as environmentally friendly as possible.

The building’s environmentally conscious structure uses wood harvested from the site throughout and maximizes natural lighting with skylights.

KHS uses about one-third less energy than North Kitsap High School, Case said. Renovations currently under way at NKHS will make it more energy efficient.

Inslee’s interest in the environment, particularly slowing and reversing the effects of global warming, motivated him to co-author “Apollo’s Fire, Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy.” His co-author, Bracken Hendricks, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, served as a special assistant to former Vice President Al Gore.

Inslee also visited the school’s recording studio, which offers career and technical education classes for about 75 students.

Richard Pullen, who teaches in the recording studio, played off Inslee’s interest in music and the studio in general by offering to send Inslee about six pages of notes on music theory.

“Can I get credit for that?” Inslee asked.

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