Amid lectures on national government and local politicians, elementary school students sometimes have trouble applying their social studies lessons to their lives. But, when faced with the idea of passing a bill through the Virginia General Assembly that proposes elementary school students should receive ice cream every day, fourth graders at Oak View Elementary gained in-depth understanding on the steps a senator must take to make this bill a law.
Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-34) led an hour-long discussion Friday, June 9 with the fourth grade class as part of a program meant to explain the role of the state government. She tested the students' knowledge of government before she led the exercise that took the fourth graders through the life of a bill.
“I want to propose a bill that says they will serve ice cream everyday at Oak View Elementary,” Devolites Davis said, eliciting loud cheers from the students.
However, the students quickly learned passing a bill that seemed to please everyone is not as simple and straight forward as it seemed.
USING THE ice cream bill as an example, Devolites Davis walked the students through some of the challenges she faces when pushing a bill through the Senate and the House of Delegates. She asked questions to encourage the students to think about the unintended consequences of the bill.
“When a bill comes to the legislature, it sounds really good,” said Devolites Davis, after several students expressed concern about the flavors of and the source of the funding for the ice cream. “But sometimes there are some issues or changes that need to be made.”
For each step the bill went through the legislature, Devolites Davis called on students, who she appointed to be “senators,” to propose amendments to the bill, such as the days certain flavors will be served and ice cream alternatives for students allergic to ice cream.
The students were able to push the bill all the way to the governor’s office, only to have it vetoed by the governor, who was unhappy with one of the ice cream flavors.
“The thing that’s challenging is that you have to compromise and realize that your bill might not turn you the way you wanted but it has to be that way to get passed," said Devolites Davis. "Compromise is very important.”
FOURTH GRADER Kacey Wheeler of Fairfax, like most of the other students in her class, said she was disappointed the bill was not passed, but understood that this happens often.
“It's a really long process just to get a bill through to the governor,” she said. “And I learned even if it does get through, it can always just get vetoed at the end.”
Devolites Davis said she visits elementary schools as well as high schools to provide students with a better understanding of her job.
"We can help make these students better citizens and help them understand what we do; hoping that they will become more involved and be good voters,” she said.
Kacey said she enjoyed the way Devolites Davis presented the information as the students were able to pay attention and participate with ease, echoing the sentiments of many students who were very involved with the exercise.
“I think it was a great,” Kacey said. “Instead of being a boring old lady and talking the whole time, she let us go through the bill and make it ourselves.”
Since government is part of the fourth grade social studies curriculum, Devolites Davis said she speaks with these students to help them put the concepts they learn into action.
“I think it’s hard to digest because it’s so complicated,” she said. “By going through this process with them of something they can really enjoy, the thought of having ice cream every day at school, teaches them, in a very simple way, that even the simplest things are complex and that there are unintended consequences.”
Fourth grade teacher Jonathan Fredrick said Devolites Davis' discussion with the students provided a look at politics not always taught in social studies.
"At the elementary level, we normally only hear about bills that are passed on the national level or on the local level," Fredrick said. "It's good to learn about the bills on the state level as well."
Devolites Davis was able to provide an in-depth example of the information taught, which allowed the students to apply what they have learned to the state government, he said.
"The ice cream was a great example because it was something the kids could really relate to," Fredrick said. "I think she did a good job explaining everything in an easy way."