PO student wins state civics title; nationals next

An 11-year-old student in Port Orchard with an impassioned stance on gun violence will represent the state of Washington at the nation’s capital Nov. 12 for the National Civics Bee Championship.

Ilyannie Gonzalez, who just completed seventh grade in the Washington Virtual Academy, was one of 13 middle school students to participate in a regional round of the civics competition hosted by the South Kitsap Chamber of Commerce at Port Orchard City Hall in April.

The first-of-its-kind competition for the county saw Gonzalez and two other students – Elliott Bush from John Sedgwick Middle School and Josie Weis from Cedar Heights Middle School – earn cash prizes and spots in the statewide finals, which were held at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia June 29.

Gonzalez impressed the judges with her general civics knowledge in two rounds of a quiz competition and her clear and passionate presentation on stopping gun violence in schools.

“Right now, we’re seeing the climax of the nation’s gun violence,” she said in an interview after the competition. “I’m just so grateful I got the opportunity to get chosen at the local level, and now I’m going to Washington D.C. to make my voice heard.”

Her mother, Roannie Tuason-Gonzalez, is proud of her daughter. “We cannot stop her. She’s just so focused on everything, and when she puts her mind onto it, she really tries her best,” her mom said.

The prize for winning the statewide contest was $1,000. “She likes competition, and she likes when there’s a subject matter she wants to study and learn about. She goes for it,” Tuason-Gonzalez said.

She said her daughter just came back from the East Coast earlier in June after winning first overall and the People’s Choice in the 6th-8th grade division of the K12 Innovation Challenge.

Now Gonzalez is set on returning to D.C. to demonstrate just how useful civics knowledge can be to people of all ages. “We have to remind the next generation they’ll be the ones leading our country,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of people don’t get a proper civic education. Ninety percent of Americans can’t name the three branches of government. That is detrimental to our democracy because our country was built upon the belief that everyone has a voice.”