By Julie Muhlstein, Herald Columnist
Fourth-graders wonder: What if windmills fall down? Would the energy stop? And if Jay Inslee were governor, what would he do about that?
While voters statewide grapple with issues in the gubernatorial race, Hillcrest Elementary School students in Lake Stevens are preparing to ask one candidate questions of their own.
Inslee, the Democrat vying for the governor’s job, has accepted an invitation to meet with students Oct. 23 in the Lake Stevens High School Performing Arts Center. Students in Bob Coleman’s fourth-grade class, along with three other fourth-grade classes at Hillcrest, will join high school students for Inslee’s visit.
Republican Rob McKenna, Inslee’s opponent, has a schedule conflict and can’t attend, Coleman said. Bulletin boards in his classroom have articles about McKenna and Inslee, and kids are exploring both candidates’ views.
“It’s nonpartisan. It’s just to engage them,” said Coleman, who was a newspaper journalist before becoming a teacher.
On Monday, several Lake Stevens High seniors from Darrick Hayman’s Advanced Placement government class came to Hillcrest to help Coleman’s students come up with questions to ask Inslee at next week’s assembly. “This is a first-time deal,” Hayman said.
Hillcrest fourth-graders last week visited the high school to meet their senior mentors. Coleman’s students focused Monday on energy and environmental issues. Other fourth-graders will work with seniors on questions related to education, transportation, partisanship and industry.
“It’s a great time to get into this, when students may be seeing political ads annoying them during ‘The X Factor.’ Now they can say, ‘Hey, I know something about that,’” Coleman said.
Hayman said some of his government students met McKenna at a Boys State event, and are excited to share the Republican’s views with younger students.
Fourth-graders at Hillcrest study Washington history, a subject likely to cover the Lewis and Clark expedition and early statehood. The governor’s race is history in the making, and fits the curriculum. Fifth-graders are studying the presidential race, while third-graders will look at local elections, Coleman said.
“I like it because usually we don’t learn about this in fourth grade,” said 9-year-old Quayson Ignacio. “I liked that we got to learn about the two candidates, Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna,” agreed Katelin O’Malley, 10.
Katelin and Quayson were in a small group of Coleman’s students working Monday with senior Khianna Calica, Lake Stevens High School’s ASB president.
“What things are you learning about the environment?” Khianna asked kids gathered around a table. Bringing focus to the high-energy bunch, the 17-year-old gave them a task: “You guys, write the questions down,” she said.
At another table, fourth-graders were already at work writing possible questions for Inslee on big sheets of paper. Some showed their child’s-eye view of the world.
“What will he do if the windmills fall down?” one boy wrote. Another said “If you stop the coal trains from coming through Washington, what will we use for energy?” In Khianna’s group, wildlife was a worry for a student who wrote “What will you do for the animals that will be harmed by cutting trees?”
Lake Stevens senior Jon Erickson urged the kids to “bring everything we’ve talked about into one key idea.”
At age 9 or 10, that’s a tall order. “I’ve never worked with little kids before,” Jon said. The exercise helped him see what teachers experience.
“I love it. I love kids,” said Caitlyn Allen, a Lake Stevens senior who wants to become a teacher or school counselor.
“I babysat one of them before,” she said. “To see them actually know something about the election, and to care, it’s kind of cool.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kids can vote
Students in kindergarten through 12th grade have an opportunity to vote in the online Student Mock Election, thanks to the Washington Secretary of State website. The ballot contains actual candidates and measures. Voting will take place Oct. 29-Nov. 2, with results posted after voting closes at 1 p.m. Nov. 2. To vote, or for teacher resources: www.sos.wa.gov/elections/mock.