Snohomish teacher to be honored for civic focus
He's known as a bell-to-bell instructor with no tolerance for late assignments.
Good grades must be earned and he sets an exceptionally high bar -- one that sends some students scurrying to the counselor's office when class schedules are released.
"I know there is prayer in school because there are prayers they won't get me," the Snohomish High School government teacher said with a laugh.
Seniors Emily Shirley and Luke Riske heard the rumors about a demanding civics teacher over the years.
"If you are an underclassman, you are scared of him," Shirley said. "The truth is, he is so inspiring. If you are going to get anything out of high school, you've got to take Mr. Gionet's class."
"I had heard from other kids that he is hard," Riske said. "The thing is, he believes in his students. I have so much respect for him. So much of what he teaches has real life application."
Students are expected to host forums for local, state and federal candidates and to spend time working on political campaigns. In a government economics class, they learn about taxes and how to fill out IRS 1040 long form as well as about mortgages and interest rates. They aren't just expected to watch the State of the Union address, but to identify key issues beforehand, evaluate what was said and to write about it.
And then there are the bills Gionet has his students research, draft and lobby for each year when the Legislature gathers in Olympia.
The field trip to the state capital is a busy day packed with handshakes and hard work. To go, students must have set up five appointments with lawmakers or staff beforehand. They are expected to make convincing cases for their proposals. Some of the teens are able to persuade politicians to sponsor their legislation and are called back to testify at hearings.
This year, three busloads of Gionet's students descended on the capital, fanning out for their appointments dropping off bills with legislative aides representing lawmakers on key committees.
Gionet is scheduled to return to Olympia again Monday. This time, it's not aboard a long yellow bus.
The Legislature is set to honor Gionet and Web Hutchins of Seattle as the state's civic teachers of the year.
Gionet said he's still not sure how he was chosen.
"It must have been some random drawing," he said.
The reality is he was nominated and chosen.
In some ways, it's hard for Gionet to imagine.
As an undergraduate at Western Washington University, Gionet thought about majoring in biology and becoming a veterinarian or maritime lawyer.
When as a junior he paid a visit to the university career center, a counselor asked him if he had ever considered becoming a teacher.
Gionet's answer: "Not in a million years. No way."
Yet a seed had been planted that fateful day. The more Gionet thought about it, the more he was drawn to the profession.
He's been at it for 30 years now, including more than a quarter century at Snohomish High. Gionet shows up to campus each day in slacks with a tie draped over a button down shirt. His three children have had him for a teacher.
Each semester, he challenges himself to know each of his students' names by the end of the first week.
He has a knack for igniting robust classroom discussions and playing the devil's advocate. His students are expected to consume the news and be well versed on current events.
"I don't get paid to manage kids," Gionet said. "I get paid to teach kids. Teaching is not a bunch of work sheets and movies. It's the interaction with kids and making a difference in their lives."
He sprinkles in bits of advice as well, encouraging them not to settle for ordinary but to make the extra effort to be extraordinary.
"You always teach like you are going to make a difference," he said.
Gionet said he looks at today's recognition as a reflection of the students he's been fortunate enough to teach over many years, as well as their parents and an administration willing to support his teaching methods.
Roxanne van Leuven had Gionet for a senior government economics class during the first semester. She kept her notes, which she has rewritten because she believes they provide valuable knowledge.
"He is definitely my favorite teacher I have ever had," she said. "It's just that extra interest he takes in his students. A lot of the projects are challenging, but I learned so much from him."
Shortly before the Christmas holiday, Gionet handed each of his economics students a card. Inside each was a shiny, uncirculated penny and his rules for investing.
"I keep it in my wallet every day," she said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org
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