Snohomish teacher is Civic Educator of the Year
SNOHOMISH - Snohomish High School teacher Tuck Gionet is being recognized as one of two Civic Educators of the Year by the Legislature and accepted the honor Monday, Feb. 18 at the Capitol Campus in Olympia.
He was nominated by legislators from his district.
Gionet teaches his students how to be active citizens. Gionet not only has his students come up with ideas for bills and properly write them out, he also brings his students by the busload to Olympia to present the bills to lawmakers.
Many of the students’ bills receive sponsorship by a representative or senator. Some become law.
More than two-thirds of Gionet’s 30 years of teaching have been spent teaching senior government at Snohomish High School.
“The kids take a lot of pride in it,” Gionet said. “I might be the recipient of the award, but it’s all based on the kids’ efforts. They’re the ones that go down and take care of business.”
Gionet said he’s always been involved in activism and “getting the students’ butts out of the seats” and into the real world. Nearly two decades ago, he decided to take his students on a tour of the state Capitol where they met with a couple local representatives.
“One of the things that the legislator said was that they get ideas from all over the place, and it occurred to me that they have to get their ideas from some place, so why not the kids,” Gionet said. “The next year we went down, and after we had our tour, they had to pick a bill they had to go talk to someone about. One of the girls suggested a change to one of the bills, and the legislator said, ‘That’s a great idea, why don’t you write it up and we’ll create a new bill from it’.”
“A light bulb went off and I thought: Next year we’re not going to just come down and take a tour, we’re going to come down — everybody — with their own bill.”
Each December Gionet’s students work in groups of up to three to draft bills that they then present to lawmakers in January. This year they took down 63 bills, several of which went on to receive a sponsorship by a representative or senator.
The bills range from prohibiting smoking in cars with passengers under the age of 16 to standardizing the state business and occupation tax. One group proposed a bill that would adjust all state fines to inflation so that if inflation goes up, so do fines.
This year, 150 students descended upon the Capitol to pitch their bills.
“They set up their own appointments with legislators and legislative aides, contact lobbyists,” Gionet said. “They’re required to wear a shirt and tie or a dress, and they go down and become student lobbyists for a day.”
“My mom taught me a lot about civics, but it was really cool to have our senior project be a part of something big,” said Emily Howell, a senior in Gionet’s government class. “We wrote, researched and did everything for (the bills). To be able to actually go down there and meet with the legislators and say this is our idea and this is why you should support this, it’s really cool.”
Working directly with lawmakers was a little scary at first, Howell said, but they soon realized that they were people too.
Howell said she is proud of the work Gionet has pushed her and her fellow students to do.
“It really shows that (Gionet) works really hard to make us wake up and realize that this is the real world and taking part in this isn’t really as hard or as far away as we think it is,” Howell said.
This year, Howell helped write a bill that would require all bicyclists to be licensed and registered, much like cars, in order to generate more revenue for road maintenance.
Students with sponsored bills may be asked to return to the Capitol to testify in support of their bill before a legislative committee.
A couple of girls in Gionet’s class recently came back from Olympia after testifying for a bill that targeted what they found to be an unfair loophole in unemployment benefit disbursement.
The Snohomish seniors also get a lesson in a different kind of politics through the experience, Gionet said.
“Over the years our students will take down these great ideas, and some legislators will say, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s a nice idea,’” Gionet said. “Then two or three years later, you see the same legislators who told the kids that it was a nice idea but there couldn’t be much done, (and) they’re sponsoring the bill with no credit given to the kids. It’s interesting.”
The next year, a student delivered a bill that would require all bills to give credit to whoever came up with the idea originally.
“Not a single legislator sponsored it,” Gionet said. “They were even told by a legislator, ‘Our egos are too big for those types of things.’”
Despite the occasional pushback from lawmakers, Gionet said he knows his students are making a difference. Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick told him that in his eight years in the Legislature, he saw 60 to 70 bills passed into law that were either directly or indirectly influenced by Snohomish High School seniors.
“The credit goes to the kids,” Gionet said. “They’re the ones that get the work done. I just kind of ride on their coattails. They come to believe that their trip to Olympia can make a difference.”
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