Students host legislative debates

IDAHO FALLS — Imagine a legislative debate where high school students call the shots. It happened twice this week.

On Tuesday, seniors at Idaho Falls-based Compass Academy hosted a public debate for candidates in Idaho’s Legislative District 33, which encompasses part of Bonneville County. The debate followed a similar event from Monday, which featured candidates from neighboring Legislative District 30.

It’s all part of the school’s push to host community-driven events, said senior Priya Lasya Tumukuru, who managed the debates.

“They give students a chance to explore things they are interested in,” Lasya Tumukuru said.

Lasya Tumukuru and other seniors from the school’s combined government-English class performed several tasks to bring the events to the public:

  • Forming stage, camera, sound and lighting crews.
  • Forming a panel of students to pitch questions to candidates and monitor their response times.
  • Drafting and asking a range of policy-related questions.

Topics ranged from climate change and taxes to medicade expansion and education. Some 50 locals attended.

Students from Compass Academy run a timer during Tuesday’s legislative debate.

Though incumbent Republican House member Barbara Ehardt noted the “pleasantly civil” tone between candidates Tuesday, things heated up Monday.

“It actually got pretty testy,” Post Register reporter Nathan Brown said of the first debate.

And that’s not a bad thing for senior Maya Reddin, who sat on Tuesday’s panel. Reddin outlined students’ twofold goal heading into the debates: helping inform voters and getting more people to turn out on Election Day.

“It’s very important,” she said.

Holly Dasher and Arik Durfee, who team teach the school’s combined government-English class, said the event caps off a lot of preparatory work from students, including in-depth research about the issues, a term paper and requirements to reach out to candidates before the debates.

Durfee said all the work carries dividends for the students old enough to vote — and for democracy.

“I guarantee they’ll know the ballot better than almost any other voter on election day,” Durfee said.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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