You never know who you might run into at the State Capitol.
An eighth-grade group from Point Borough's Memorial Middle School had a chance encounter with Gov. Chris Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno that turned into an opportunity to ask the governor a bunch of questions.
The Gifted and Talented Social Studies class, their teacher Katherine Clapp and other chaperones had traveled to Trenton for a visit to the Statehouse and the Old Barrack’s Museum on Jan. 25.
When the class was being led on a Statehouse tour, the students caught the eye of the governor as he exited an office near the Rotunda.
Christie, along with three members of his security team, entered another office, only to exit moments later to approach the group of wide-eyed eighth-graders and their incredulous chaperones.
Following a warm greeting and words of welcome, the governor asked the students if they had any questions for him.
Curiosity won over apprehension as 14-year-old Peter Martino posed the question, “What are you doing today?”
“I’m holding a press conference at 11,” answered Christie. “I have some meetings in the afternoon, then I’m heading over to watch Notre Dame versus Seton Hall at the basketball game tonight.”
For more than 15 minutes, the governor answered the students’ questions about what it’s like to serve as New Jersey’s chief executive.
From the pros and cons of his job to the role of his security team, the governor good-naturedly answered the group’s every query.
Taking a cue from the mainstream media’s political pundits, student Kevin Jasaitis asked the governor if he would consider running for vice president.
“I don’t think so,” answered Christie. “I prefer the leadership role rather than second-in-command,” he added as his own second-in-command, Guadagno, emerged from another office.
As Guadagno joined the governor, both remarked on the rarity of the occasion, explaining that the two are seldom together.
“You are all very lucky,” exclaimed the Lt. Governor. “It is extremely unusual for us to be together,” she said before she, too, offered to answer any questions.
Responding to eighth-grader Victoria Lohnes’ inquiry about her duties as lieutenant governor, Guadagno stuck out a thumb gesturing to the Governor, replying, “Whatever he tells me.”
After posing for a photo, the lieutenant governor excused herself, and the Governor, once again, shocked the already awed group by inviting them to be his guests at his upcoming press conference regarding the restructuring of higher education in the state.
The governor and students parted ways after the 45-minute press conference, and the students continued, albeit a bit late, to their next destination, the Old Barracks.
When Middle School Principal Gary Floyd heard about the students' impromptu meeting with Christie, he said, “A trip that was expected to only include a brief tour of the State house quarters and Old Barracks became a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these students as well as their teachers and chaperones."
And according to follow-up essays written by the students about the trip, it was an experience they won’t soon forget, an experience that may have even ignited personal political ambitions, possibly inspiring future generations of political leaders.
“Perhaps one day, people will be excited to meet me,” wrote 14-year-old Hayley Roselle of herself as the future governor.
“It is absolutely imperative for today’s students to become knowledgeable and engaged in the legislative process,” said Superintendent of Schools Vincent S. Smith.
“Classroom lessons provide a great introduction to the history of the legislature and procedural elements of the inception and passage of laws, but it is authentic experiences like the eighth-grade Washington trip, the visit to the Statehouse and participation in the Mini-Model Congress that underscore the personal connection of the laws we observe and the roles we can serve in their development.”
“I would like to express my gratitude to Gov. Christie for taking the time to meet with our students, and for providing them a glimpse into his daily life as our state’s leader,” added Smith.
“The visit to the State House was planned as a precursor to a trip in March that my students will be taking as members of Memorial Middle School’s Mini-Model Congress,” Clapp said.
Clapp said the Mini-Model Congress, a program through Educational Information and Resource Centers’ Gifted and Talented organization, has students practicing parliamentary procedures and debating strategies, as well as researching and writing their own bills.
“Working in pairs, the students have crafted federal bills addressing issues like the closure of puppy mills and legislating incentives for utilizing public transportation and alternative energy usage,” said Clapp. “These mock-bills will be sent to the Mini-Model Congress Committee for consideration for inclusion at Congress Day in March.”
Clapp said Mini-Model Congress Day, a multi-school event which takes place in the Annex of the State House, is a unique role-playing activity that provides the students with the opportunity to enact the legislation proposed in their bills.
“Mini-Model Congress Day entrenches students in the legislative process,” continued Clapp. “Acting in their appointed roles in a General Assembly, comprised of teams of students from schools across New Jersey, the students debate, argue and challenge the proposed legislation in the same facility that our State’s governing bodies determine the fate of laws affecting New Jersey.”
“Congress Day is very structured and does not allow a sufficient opportunity to tour the State House, which is not only fraught with historical significance but also quite beautiful,” she said, explaining the purpose of the class trip.
“The students learned the origins of New Jersey’s symbolic fruit, bird and animal, blueberry, goldfinch and horse, respectively, and that Trenton, New Jersey is our nation’s second oldest State Capitol.”
According to Clapp, the class trip was taken at the suggestion of the school principal.
“Entering the Statehouse on Congress Day can be very intimidating,” said Floyd. “Making this initial visit prior to the big event will, hopefully, help to allay any trepidation on Congress Day, while also giving the students an opportunity to learn about our state’s rich history, an experience they could compare and contrast with their experiences on the school’s annual eighth grade Washington trip taken earlier this year.”
“We expected the trip to provide this group of students with a unique perspective of our local and federal government as they explored the similarities and differences of our national and state capitols,” continued Floyd. “No one could have anticipated the outcome of this experience.”
To find out more about the Point Pleasant School District, visit the district website.