It's Kids at the Capitol Day, put together by Utah Moms for Clean Air. Students from several different schools in the Salt Lake Valley are here, with signs, to send the message to our current legislative session that they're sick and tired of our city's air pollution problem. There are rows of chairs and a podium, the students are asked to sit and the adults to stand at the back of the group. Several legislators who are introducing bills to protect our valley's air quality, are going to speak to the students and the students get a chance to ask questions.
I'm a little nervous. It's not often that Sego Lily School students are required to sit still and listen and we're surrounded by other students who are used to doing just that, all day, every day. Our five students who have chosen to attend this event (ages 5-9) have made signs, they care about the issue, and they're here to make a difference. They take a seat in the front row. One of the legislator stands at the podium and starts speaking. He talks about his bill to upgrade the valley's fleet of diesel school buses. He asks if there are any questions. Three hands immediately shoot up, it's our students. I smile, knowing that whatever they ask is going to be good. “Can we run the school buses on vegetable oil?” The legislator happily answers the question, talking about biodiesel and other alternative fuels. The next few legislators speak, and every time they ask for questions, our students' hands are the first ones up. They ask more good questions, such as “Can we tear down all the polluting power plants and put up more solar and wind power?” These kids know their stuff.
I turn to another educator, a friend of mine, and say “I'm so proud of our students and the questions they're asking!” She replies back to me “Yes, you really prepped them well,” to which I get to answer “No, I didn't!” And it's true. None of these questions were prepped.
Next, it's time for the students to speak. A large group from one of the local private schools stands up in a line behind the podium. Wearing their school uniforms and gas masks for effect, one after the next they present very well thought out speeches with facts and statistics. These kids obviously did their homework. Once again, our students also have something to say. Two of our students get up to speak at the podium. They wing it, they speak from their hearts. They care about clean air. They worry when they have to breath dirty air. It stinks. It's ugly. And they don't want to have to wear gas masks. One of our students, who is barely tall enough to see over the podium from which he is speaking, is being photographed for the newspaper. I look around, adults are listening intently, smiling and nodding.It makes me think, Sego Lily School students are not prepped. They are, however, prepared. They didn't do homework on the subject, they didn't write speeches, they didn't have to be encouraged to ask questions. Yet, their thoughts are just as compelling and shared with just as much confidence as the students who came with written speeches. Sego Lily School students are prepared to speak candidly on any number of subjects, with people of any age, because they do it every day at school. They ask questions because it's their right, and because they want to know the answers, not because it's a requirement. I'm proud of our students, showing up and making their voices heard in our halls of government. In this moment I know that what we do at Sego Lily School really does prepare our students for the real world.
The Salt Lake Tribune's photos of the event: