Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Ricks Center students take on congressional roles

On Dec. 14, students from DU’s Ricks Center for Gifted Children participated in a mock congressional panel and debated the 2008 National Park Service (NPS) budget. The 19 fifth and sixth graders acted out roles as senators, environmentalists, recreational users and Park Service employees.

Since September, the students from Rebecca Gallagher and Kristen Bunn’s homeroom class prepared for their parts. They learned about national parks, adopted one as their own and even took a field trip to Yellowstone. They studied Congress and how budgetary decisions are made. Then, they researched the real people whose personas they would take on.

“We discussed with them the importance of taking on roles and opinions that are not their own,” Gallagher says.

The students were tasked with creating a NPS budget proposal for 2008. Faced with a 20-percent budget cut, they had to decide how to balance use of the parks with their preservation.

Brad, a fifth grader, represented the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association. He says snowmobiling is safer in national parks because there aren’t many roads.

“I’ve been snowmobiling, and I think it’s really fun,” Brad says.

Brad says he spent most of his time researching the opposing side. Most environmentalists, he says, believe snowmobiles shouldn’t be allowed in national parks. He learned that older snowmobiles are louder and produce more pollution than those manufactured today.

Sixth grader Emily played Sen. Craig Thomas from Wyoming who, before the election, was the subcommittee chair. Emily says she learned that the decision making process is a long one.

“You have to listen to everyone’s speeches. We have our own views but you have to see the views from the speakers,” says Emily, noting that she had to set aside her personal views about hunting in national parks.

After hearing from advocates of recreation over preservation, and vice versa, the Rick’s Center’s congressional subcommittee decided to allocate 60 percent of the FY 2008 budget to preservation and 40 percent to usage.

“Seeing the big picture will give them foothold in the democracy when they’re of voting age,” says Gallagher.

Established in 1984, the Ricks Center serves 250 students in grades 3–8.

[Editor’s note: Ricks Center students were identified by first name only at the request of their parents.]

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