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Student lawmakers for a day debate real bills, including uniforms, fuel tax and speed boats

Anyone not familiar with Ada Elementary’s government day might have mistakenly thought the cheers that came from the media center on a recent Thursday could have been from a sporting event, a birthday or a visit from a much-loved storybook character.

Shanza Sheik stands with fellow committee members to argue key points of their bill

But those loud, triumphant, jump-out-of-your-seat reactions were in response to the passage or defeat of real bills argued and voted upon by a mock House of Representatives and Senate.

Students in the fourth-grade classes of Bridget Bennett, Emily Wheeler and Stacy Redmond took part in the annual event, started by now-retired teachers Meg Deegan and Linda Manica.

Government day is an experience-based approach to learning about basic government skills, specifically how a bill becomes a law. The entire day is completed through role play.

First, a governor and lieutenant governor are elected by their classmates, who cast their ballots in booths similar to how their parents vote.

The school library is transformed into the chamber at the state Capitol, where students serve as senators and members of the House of Representatives.

After meeting in their respective committees, they argue versions of real bills such as mandating daily physical education in grades k-12, imposing a 2 percent fuel tax, and requiring public school students to wear uniforms.

“When students are actually experiencing the content, the information is more meaningful and memorable,” Bennett said.

Indeed. They were particularly keen to influence bills that personally affected them, such as a proposal to restrict hours of operation of speed boats on lakes.

During the Senate vote, a majority stood in favor of limiting hours, citing decreased water and air pollution, and quieter conditions for late sleepers and early morning fisher-people.

One student senator asked if pontoons were included.

Though Bennett said they were not, she pointed out that activities such as water skiing and tubing that rely on speed boats also would be curtailed. As a result, several of those standing changed their votes by sitting down, and Gov. Cassidy Yob declared “It’s vetoed,” to the cheers of waterside vacation-going lawmakers.

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Video: Fourth-graders reflect on Government Day

Government Day Lesson Plan

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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