It was the perfect setting for HEAV’s Day at the Capitol–the sun was shining warmly and there was a light breeze to greet homeschool visitors. Everyone was eager to be outside and make their way across the street to the newly restored Capitol and Visitor’s Center. Because the session had ended, the Capitol building was quiet and the grounds were like a park on a spring day. Homeschoolers were the only visitors at the Capitol.
Morning Activities Prepared Students
Early in the morning of March 19, parents and students streamed into the Library of Virginia across from the Capitol to pick up tickets, maps, and scavenger hunt information. TeenPact volunteers distributed tickets for the Chamber Presentation, as well as for the Capitol, Executive Mansion, and Supreme Court tours.
At the library there was a brief introductory session hosted by Yvonne Bunn, HEAV’s director of homeschool support. Homeschool families met HEAV lobbyist Oscar Walker and TeenPact director Lydia Shanks. Maggie Massie, the House Educational Lead, explained how interested homeschoolers could become Capitol pages. Former Attorney General Bob McDonnell and Senator Steve Martin, representing Senator Ken Cuccinelli, shared important information about state government and the upcoming elections. After a brief legislative review, everyone was off to the Capitol grounds.
Student Involvement: The Key to Learning
Entire families participated in the Chamber Presentations scheduled four times during the day. Both parents and students sat in the same seats and at the same desks as Virginia’s legislators.
House and Senate educational directors explained the Capitol’s history and the parliamentary rules. The directors taught participants how to use the electronic devices on each desk for recognition, speaking, and voting. This kept the students very interested!
Those in the House debated a sports access bill, and those on the Senate side debated cell phone use by drivers. Parents and students pushed the appropriate button to be recognized, then stood and spoke into desk microphones during the discussion. Lively debates ensued before the legislators electronically voted “yea” or “nay” on the mock bills.
While those in the chamber presentation were learning about bills becoming laws, others were taking tours of the beautifully restored Capitol. At midday, homeschool guests enjoyed picnic or boxed lunches from Meriwether’s Café in the Visitor’s Center while watching a video of one of the 2009 General Assembly sessions.
Afterwards, many families walked across the street to view the Richmond skyline from the City Hall observation tower–one of the tallest buildings downtown. It was great fun seeing a panoramic view of the downtown skyline. You could see students across the street scurrying around the Capitol grounds looking for answers to scavenger hunt questions.
As the day ended, one parent of a fourth grader remarked they were glad they had come because the Capitol trip made Virginia history come alive for them, while another student said this was a great ending to her senior year government course.
Regardless of the age or interest (parents included!), Day at the Capitol was a great learning experience that went far beyond the covers of a textbook!