Monday, November 26, 2018

Laraway School students learn about government at the Vermont State House

     Students and staff from Laraway School’s individualized program traveled to the Vermont State House in Montpelier on November 5th, the day before midterm elections. This was an effort to combine English Language Arts with Social Studies in a fun way, using local, primary sources.
     The tour was arranged through Angelica Caterino, State House Tours Coordinator. Kirk Gardner, our guide, met us in the lobby for an orientation before leading us along the hallowed halls. He told us about the history of the building, and of prior State Houses used to govern Vermont since it became the 14th state in 1791. He explained how, shortly after the Revolutionary War, people began settling Vermont in greater numbers. Students listened politely as Mr. Gardner explained how the first State House was built in 1808 where the Vermont Supreme Court is now. The building became too small by 1833, due to dramatic population growth.
     A larger State House was built in 1838. However, it suffered a devastating fire in 1857. Some of the architectural elements---including external Doric columns---survived and were incorporated into the new building.
     Mr. Gardner explained that the gold dome is covered in real gold leaf. He said it is less expensive to cover the dome in gold, which has to be replaced every 30 to 40 years, than to repaint it with greater frequency. We learned the black squares on the checkerboard floor came from 480-million-year-old fossilized rock from the quarry at Isle La Motte. Mr. Gardner told us that the rock was once a coral reef in an ancient sea that once covered part of Vermont.
     Mr. Gardner guided us through notable portraiture, including paintings of Vermont-born U.S. Presidents Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge. We also viewed portraits of former governors Madeleine Kunin, Howard Dean, Jim Douglas and Peter Shumlin. We then entered the dark, jewel-green Senate Chamber to learn about legislative processes. We continued to the ruby-red House Chamber, where staff and students were invited to sit in the seats occupied by members of the House of Representatives. Mr. Gardner explained how a bill starts with an original idea that must pass through numerous steps to become a law.  Students and staff asked questions and shared ideas.
     Sliding into the red velvet chairs in the Governor’s Ceremonial Office, we sat in the room where Governor Scott signs high-profile bills into law and hosts visiting dignitaries.  We ate a picnic lunch provided by our wonderful cafeteria staff, Lisa Rock and Dave Doerr, before returning to Laraway.
     The field trip was organized to make government and civics more relevant. Mission accomplished!
~By Carla Occaso, Teacher, Laraway School