Breidablik Bears browse the state capitol

OLYMPIA — As wide-eyed Breidablik fourth graders sat patiently in the capitol’s reception room, state Senator Phil Rockefeller gave them a crucial piece of advice when it comes to representative government.

“Democracy,” he began, “only works if you participate.”

Rockefeller, joined by Poulsbo Representative Sherry Appleton in the reception room, answered anything and everything for the students Friday, in what was likely the first trip for most of the students to the state capitol.

“How long do you get to be here?” one asked.

Two years for representatives, four for senators, the legislators replied.

“Where is your office?” another asked.

That building over there, Appleton and Rockefeller said, pointing out toward the O’Brien and Cherberg buildings.

“Where do you live?” posed one student.

Rockefeller replied Bainbridge. Appleton quipped, “six driveways up,” Finn Hill Road in Poulsbo.

But Rockefeller also turned the tables on the students, asking them a question — “How many votes are needed to get a bill passed in the senate?”

Their faces went blank.

Though the process of learning the ways of government is undoubtedly overwhelming for a fourth grader, there can be no better teacher than our own elected representatives — and no better place than the state capitol.

That was the motivation behind Breidablik teachers Jeanette Olsen and Donna Briggs’ March 4 trip to Olympia.

“I love the way they see the magnificence and the bigness of government,” Briggs said of her students. “They start to gain appreciation of the legislature.”

Whereas the trip is Olsen’s first with students, Briggs is no stranger to the tour, having been 10 times.

“I just really enjoy the fact they’re taking what they’ve learned in class and they’re making the connections,” Olsen said.

The tour included stops in the governor’s and secretary of state’s offices, as well as a mock trial inside the temple of justice, home of the Washington State Supreme Court.

There, the shelves of books containing all of Washington’s laws mesmerized the students, Briggs said, as it quantified for them just how much work is done by Washington’s legislature and court system.

“It was very interesting to pretend to be a justice and find out about all the rules,” said fourth grader Nicole Jusino of their mock trial.

Others expressed awe of the government’s detail, down to the placard they received that bears the shiny golden seal of the State of Washington.

“I learned who my senator was and what our state seal has on it,” confirmed fourth grader Devin Duckworth, who added that he feels it’s important to learn about the legislature because “it’s the state we live in.”

The students were also privileged to see a completely renovated capitol that was recently re-opened. It had been heavily damaged by the Nisqually earthquake in 2001.

Much to their dismay, riches and jewels don’t necessarily accompany all aspects of Washington’s central government.

“I’ve learned there’s not actually that much gold in there,” said fourth grader Linnea Barnhart.

But she did add that if not for knowledge of the government, the students can certainly be excellent tour guides on their next trips to the capitol.

“Because next time we come we can tell our mom and dad and sister about it,” Barnhart said.

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