Stories

Aardvark political engagement: death penalty project

March 6, 2020

Eighth Graders traveled to the state Capitol this winter to participate in an historic event: a public hearing on a measure to repeal the death penalty in Colorado. This was a remarkable day fueled by the students’ own passion for this topic. Read more below

After reading Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and studying the civil rights movement, Eighth Grade students developed strong views on the topic of racial discrimination in the justice system. After viewing the documentary True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality, one asked, “But what can we do? We’re kids.”

Hoping to find an appropriate conclusion for this unit of study, Middle School English teacher Ginger Lewis noted that the Colorado Legislature was considering SB-100 , a measure to repeal the death penalty in Colorado. Following thorough and thoughtful discussions of the issue in class, students voiced unanimous support for the bill. Upon discovering that it was scheduled for a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, they asked whether they might speak in support. “Of course; we welcome their voice,” was the response from one of the sponsors of the bill. 

All 25 Eighth Grade students drafted thoughtful, impassioned speeches and delivered them to a panel of judges at school; three were chosen to be added to the Judiciary Committee’s witness list. The class traveled to the state Capitol in February. Before entering the hearing room, they had an opportunity for three thoughtful Q & A sessions: with our own state Rep. Julie McCluskie, legislative aide Trenten Robinson, and Colorado Public Radio reporter Bente Birkeland. It was an amazing opportunity to see behind the scenes of our state government.

Ginger noted, “While the Eighth Graders are teenagers right now, they won’t be for long. Soon they will be registered voters and we want them to know they have agency in impacting the issues for which they feel passionate. We want them to know what it is to be politically active Colorado citizens.”

After hearing about three hours of testimony from both sides of the issue, Jared H., Taylor L., and Amelia H. were finally called up to the witness table. With poise and confidence, they each spoke in turn to the committee members and to a packed room of more than 150 Colorado citizens and legislators. “We can tell you have devoted a great deal of time to this, and your arguments are well thought out,” said Judiciary Committee Chair Mike Weissman. “Thank you for taking the time to come here and share your views.” The children spoke not only with conviction but also with compassion, proving that they are taking the lessons of empathy and character that they have learned at Aspen Country Day School out into the wider world. Click here to read the testimony presented today.

Later this winter, SB-100 was signed into law by Governor Polis, ending the use of the death penalty in Colorado.