Third-grader Samantha Hessel has big plans for her future — she’d like to become Secretary of State, just like Hillary Clinton. She got her first brush with politics when Gov. John Hickenlooper walked into her classroom at Upper Blue Elementary School Friday.
The governor, along with state Sens. Pat Steadman and Evie Hudak, and state Rep. Millie Hamner, came to the school to sign two education-related bills into law.
Not only did Samantha get to interact with the governor during his classroom visits after the signing, but she also maneuvered a one-on-one hallway chat with Steadman.
“It was pretty cool,” she said, her eyes still wide from the experience.
Witnessing government in action
Students, teachers, parents, school board members and Summit County Commissioners Karn Stiegelmeier and Thomas Davidson, along with the Upper Blue Elementary fifth-grade class, all turned out to witness Hickenlooper sign Senate Bill 260 and House Bill 1257 in the school library.
“What better place to sign two bills related to education than in a fabulous school in Summit County, my home,” Hamner said.
Before the signing, Hickenlooper took time to speak with the fifth-graders seated in front of his podium. He polled them on what they thought were his three rules to a happy life, which he thought all schoolchildren in Colorado should hear. The answers — work hard, be nice and don’t quit.
Summit School District superintendent Heidi Pace opened the event, welcoming the officials and expressing the school district’s appreciation for being chosen as the signing location.
“We are here today for a very special historic moment,” she said.
Following Pace was Upper Blue Elementary principal Kerry Buhler.
“We are honored that you have chosen our school and Summit School District for the signing of both of these education bills.”
Beginning his speech, Hickenlooper mentioned his son Teddy, who is also just finishing up the fifth grade. He discussed the bills, their importance and what he and the government hope they will accomplish.
House Bill 1257 is designed to develop local-level educator evaluation systems. Under the bill, evaluations will be based on statewide quality standards of effective teacher and principal practices.
“We want to make sure it’s done with lots of teacher input. If we’re evaluating somebody, who better to figure out how to evaluate them than …. the people who are actually doing it every day,” Hickenlooper said. Turning to the students, he added, “We want to make sure all of you have great teachers.”
Senate Bill 260 addresses the financing of public schools. The bill amends the Public School Finance Act of 1994, modifying funding for public schools from preschool through 12th grade for the 2013-14 budget year.
“The School Finance Act that we’re about to sign,” Steadman explained, “authorizes the distribution of $5.5 billion to school districts all across the state of Colorado.”
The bill will increase the number of students in Colorado who can participate in preschool through the Colorado Preschool Program. It also provides additional money to special education.
“This is an excellent school finance bill,” Hudak said. “We’re really excited about it and we’re all thrilled because all of us have always wanted to sponsor the school finance act and this is the first for the three of us, so we’re almost giddy with joy.”
As Hickenlooper sat down to sign the bills, the library grew quiet. In front, fifth-graders rose up on their knees to watch as his pen moved across the page. The first ended with a flourish as Hickenlooper announced, “That’s a law.” Applause followed.
After a short question-and-answer session with the fifth-graders (the governor enjoys his job, especially working with people, likes to ski and is a “Star Wars” fan), Hickenlooper visited several other classrooms, asking what they were learning and sharing his three rules to a happy life.
“I think it’s good to let the kids see how laws are made and explain it and be part of a bill signing,” Hickenlooper said of the importance of doing the actual act of signing at a school. “So often kids don’t have any idea how government works any more. … It’s a teachable moment.”
Steadman, who followed Hickenlooper up and down the elementary hallway, agreed that seeing the moment in person made an impact on the students.
“I think it’s really exciting when kids get to see their government in action, bills signed into law, and to understand how that came to be,” he said. “So, the group of fifth graders we were just with, they were old enough and had studied civics and American government enough to at least understand what was going on and they seemed pretty excited and pretty into it. So I hope they stay interested, stay involved.”
Having members of the government come up from Denver and into the school meant a lot, Buhler said. “It really is a growth kind of opportunity for all of us, and to see that the government cares as much as we do about how that is structured and has evolved, is the way to make it work.”
As principal, of course, her focus is always primarily on the students.
“I think it’s something they’ll never forget,” she said.
“I think it’s really exciting when kids get to see their government in action, bills signed into law, and to understand how that came to be.”
— state Sen. Pat Steadman