From senate to second grade: Richter talks taxes to TBE tykes

State Senator Garrett Richter paid a visit to Jennifer Sickels' second grade class at Tommie Barfield Elementary School on Friday, teaching a civics lesson through Junior Achievement. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

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State Senator Garrett Richter paid a visit to Jennifer Sickels' second grade class at Tommie Barfield Elementary School on Friday, teaching a civics lesson through Junior Achievement. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

Garrett Richter aced his student teaching test on Friday. The Florida state senator spoke to Jennifer Sickels’ second grade class at Tommie Barfield Elementary on Friday, and his enthusiastic delivery and willingness to engage the kids on their own level trumped the material he had to cover, and even the fact that immediately after his talk, the children were free for a week of spring break.

The topic was taxes. Richter, a Republican representing solidly red Southwest Florida, was put in the potentially uncomfortable and certainly uncharacteristic position of having to explain how taxes are a good thing, and why we all have to pay them.

Senator Richter’s appearance was arranged by Junior Achievement, demonstrating that kids are never too young to be molded into the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. JA coordinator Bonnie Geddis-Zaikov, whose daughter Nicole Geddis is a member of Ms. Sickels’ class, furnished Richter with a “study guide,” walking the speaker through how to present the material, but for a guy with the “gift of gab” possessed by Richter, not to mention his knowledge of the material and ability to connect with his audience, no notes or Teleprompter were required.

As the premise for the exercise, all the students were employees of a donut shop, called Sweet “O” Donuts in the printed material, but changed to Dunkin’ Donuts at TBE. Each student received “wages” in the form of play money.

Going well beyond his mandate or the call of senatorial duty, Richter took the kids on a far-ranging lesson, incorporating history, geography, social studies, civics, math, and even a little science and spelling. Richter explained the various levels of government, from municipal through state and Federal, the three branches of government, the bi-cameral state legislature, and the roles of the President, governor, and judges, stopping just short of an exposition of the underlying causes of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930. He used term limits for a quick review of division.

“How do you spell ‘government?’ he asked the children. Showing a politician knows how to cut corners, he wrote his answer on the board – G-O-V period.

The donut shop was beset by a series of problems, including theft and fire. Richter got the students to answer, “who should we call?” and then pointed out that police and fire services don’t come for free, nor do roads for them to drive on, or 911 systems.

Just like older citizens, the students saw their earnings dwindle, as “taxes” were collected from each to pay for government services. The students took it all in stride, never protesting, showing people can understand the need for taxation when they see a tangible benefit.

“The bottom line,” Richter told the children, “taxes are money the government collects so they can provide services. No one,” he added, “likes to pay them.”

The age gap showed a couple of times, when Richter asked for volunteers to portray a “fireman,” and the kids were quick to interject “or fire girl.” When the question was how old you have to be to vote, Richter jumped in with “21,” before thinking for a moment and remembering things have changed since he was that age, with the help of his twenty-something legislative aide Michael Nachef, himself a graduate of TBE, MICMS, and Lely High School, as well as FGCU.

Richter’s day job is CEO of First National Bank of Florida, of which he is a founder. He has the heart of a teacher, though, even giving handshake lessons to young people introduced to him, as well as high fives all around before he exited Ms. Sickels’ classroom. If the whole banking and politics thing doesn’t work out for Richter, he definitely has a future in teaching.

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