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Third-graders visit Capitol, examine real laws

Kent City — In Big Rapids, it is against the law for someone to knowingly deposit trash in someone else’s receptacle without having permission to do so.

In Petoskey, it is unlawful for any person to engage in fortune-telling or pretend to tell fortunes for hire or reward.

And in Maddie Aldinger’s third-grade classroom at Kent City Elementary School, those and many other state laws came under intense scrutiny as her third-graders dug into a social studies unit on Michigan’s government. 

In preparation for a class trip to the state Capitol in Lansing, Aldinger wanted her students to be well informed on the different levels of government at the local, state and national levels, as well as how laws are created and enforced at those different levels. 

“When they’re 18 years old they will all have the right to vote, so it’s important that they understand how government and laws work … because they’re all going to have a voice one day,” Aldinger said. “When we go to the Capitol, we’re able to see what actually happens in government, the rooms where things happen, so it’s good to have that knowledge and understand what’s going on, who they’re meeting and what (state representatives) are doing.”

To do so, the third-graders split into small groups, each studying one real law from a city in Michigan. After figuring out what the law meant, each group had to come to consensus on whether it should be in place or not, and then build an argument supporting their position to present to the rest of the class. 

Beyond learning about government, the exercise was a good way to practice working in groups and respectfully agreeing or disagreeing with their peers, as well as their opinion-writing skills, Aldinger said. 

“There were some interesting discussions happening, even some mini-debates going on as they discussed whether a law should be in place,” she said. “One law said it should be illegal for people to have more than four dogs in their home, and those students got into a really good conversation. (One student said), ‘If the limit shouldn’t be enforced, should there be a limit? Should people be allowed to have 70 dogs in their home?’ They made some really great arguments.”

Camping, Crimes & Some Convincing

Kolten Lintern and his group members worked on a law from Big Rapids, where it’s illegal for someone to throw trash on another person’s property. He said he immediately agreed it was a valid issue and should be a law.

“I thought it should because, if somebody’s a criminal, they could maybe kill someone and if they threw it in your trash can, you would get all the blame and go to prison,” he explained. 

Most of Kolten’s group members agreed. But one took some convincing. 

“We talked to the person that didn’t agree and we told him how it should be a law and then, soon, he figured out that it should be a law and so he helped us do the work … It was just a little bit hard, but not that hard (to convince him),” Kolten said. 

Xiomara Martinez and her group studied a law from the city of Port Austin, which states that “No person shall utilize any part of the park, beach, parking lots or recreational areas as an overnight camping or sleeping place.” 

Unlike Kolten’s group, Xiomara and the rest of her peers were of the same mind right away: They agreed that it is one law that should not exist.

Why not? “Because, then, if (the person who wants to sleep) move somewhere else, like near the road, they could get run over by cars and that wouldn’t be good,” she said. 

Although Xiomara said it was “really scary” to present their argument in front of class, her group was ultimately the only one that disagreed with an on-the-books law — and they were also able to effectively convince their classmates, Aldinger said.

“Their argument was that it shouldn’t be a law because homeless people need a place to sleep,” the teacher said, “and when we took the vote, everyone agreed. They did a pretty great job.” 

Read more from Kent City: 
Built for balance?
‘My kids are counting on me’

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is associate editor, reporter and copy editor. She is an award-winning journalist who got her professional start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate and proud former Chimes editor, she later returned to Calvin to help manage its national writing festival. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio


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