ARA Students Join Peers To Testify On Education At Senate

Students from American Renaissance Academy in Kapolei testified before the Senate Education Committee March 16. Pictured here visiting state Sen. Mike Gabbard's office are (from left) Crystal Boucon, Andy Wiers, Gabrielle Mason, Sen. Gabbard, Samuel Castro, Samantha Beck, Hunter Bruno, Cody Porter, Derek Tanizaki-Hudson, Abigail Castro and teacher David Suhs. Photo from David Suhs.

The following article was submitted to the West Oahu Islander by American Renaissance Academy social studies teacher David Suhs.

It is often said that young people today are apathetic about government and its workings. But on March 16, a group of American Renaissance Academy (ARA) students joined colleagues from nine other area schools and proved to be an exception to that statement.

State Sen. Jill Tokuta, who represents District 24 in Windward Oahu, invited Hawaii public and private middle and high school students to testify on legislation being considered by the Senate Education Committee as part of the Hawaii State Legislature’s 2012 Education Week, “Celebrating Our Success.”

ARA students joined those from Moanalua High, Kalaheo High, Anuenue, Hanalani Schools, Punahou, Aiea High, Castle High, Ewa Makai Middle School and the Hawaii State Student Council.

ARA students who attended were Crystal Boucon (grade 9), Andy Wiers (grade 11), Gabrielle Mason (grade 9), Samuel Castro (grade 11), Samantha Beck (grade 9), Hunter Bruno (grade 10), Cody Porter (grade 10), Derek Tanizaki-Hudson (grade 10) and Abigail Castro (grade 9). As their social studies teacher, I accompanied the students, along with parent chaper-ones Teresa Castro and Leslie Mason.

Approximately a week before their testimonies, the students researched a number of bills being considered by the Senate Education Committee. They then selected one bill each, and wrote their opinions about the issue to present before the committee.

These bills included issues such as environmental educational projects in schools, student instructional time in the classroom, the proper training of coaches and trainers to treat concussions, and the endorsement of cheerleading as an athletic sport.

Activities on that day began with a visit to state Sen. Mike Gabbard’s office, where he welcomed the students and gave them an introduction to his work with the Environmental and Energy Committee and its efforts to promote geo-thermal energy. The morning continued with a training session conducted by the Legislature’s Public Access Office where students were briefed on the procedures of how a bill becomes a law.

Following this briefing, they moved to the Senate Chambers where they were introduced on the floor by Gabbard. After lunch, they assembled in the Senate auditorium where they stood before the committee and spoke from a podium to give public testimonies on the bills they had selected to research. ARA students were commended as a group and individually for their testimony on these issues.

The students said they found the day very interesting and rewarding. Junior Andy Wiers said it best: “I found the opportunity to testify before the Senate Education Committee and to be introduced on the Senate floor to be a really great experience that very few teenagers would have the opportunity to do.”