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Nine years of Fridays, in Grade 6

July 23, 2012, 3:46 pm

It took nine years, but I'm done with the sixth grade.
Last month saw my final presentation as a volunteer with the School at the Legislature program. It's a site-based learning program which sees a different Grade 6 class at the Legislature, throughout the school year. It's a terrific idea; the kids relocate to a classroom in the Legislature's Annex office building, for a week-long "teachable moment."
Along all their regular classes there are special activities: watching Question Period; meeting their MLAs, and seeing presentations from the different functions within the Legislature such as Hansard and the Sergeant-at-Arms. And, for the past nine years, I did my best to explain what the media does at the Legislature.
We held the presentation on Fridays, when the Assembly doesn't sit, in the Legislature's "Media Conference Theatre," a.k.a the TV Room. That's where news conferences are held, where occasionally the Premier and more usually cabinet ministers or opposition members stand behind the podium carved with the provincial coat-of arms. Most of the students have seen it on newscasts ("It looks bigger on television."). So the room itself does most of the work., immediately capturing 11-year-old imaginations and thereby, their attention. We talked about reporters and what they do at the Legislature, why they do it and how they interact with the MLAs and their officials.
If there's a "golden age" of democracy in Alberta, it is 11. Long before adult cynicism has taken hold, but not blindly accepting either, the School at the Legislature kids bring something that's become rare in the building: open minds. They understand intuitively what too many of us have forgotten; that we have a system of government that was genuinely intended to reflect the will of the governed and that it mostly works, that most of the people they talk to during their visit - MLAs or public servants or the media - really care about what they're doing, and that overall, it's pretty cool.
That spirit is infectious, jumping across party and other lines. During those nine years I was aided and abetted by members of the Premiers' communications staff, past and present (including two Directors of Communications for PremierS Klein & Stelmach respectively, Marisa Etmanski and Jerry Bellikka). These very busy people would volunteer to conduct our "mock " news conferences pretending to announce the introduction of the School Uniform Act and be peppered with questions from a roomful of Grade 6 reporters. Also, not once during those nine years did any party, MLA or minister refuse a request to hijack one of their real news conferences, cramming the seats with wide-eyed kids doing their best to remember their instructions not to stare into the TV cameras.
I leave hoping that one or more of my colleagues in the Press Galley can take over the Friday afternoon presentations. I was lucky that CKUA (which is one of the sponsors of  School at the Legislature) let me work my schedule to accommodate the program. That's a luxury that most reporters don't enjoy in this age of "confluence" or "convergence" or what ever alias is used by media organizations to justify using fewer and fewer resources to cover the Legislature. Most days you could fire a cannon down the once crowded halls of the press gallery and not hit anything. But that's a different blog.

Visit 'CKUA In Your Community' to see photos of Ian with students from Malmo Elementary, and a selection of thank-you cards and letters that Ian has received over the years.

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