Students from all over the State gathered in Columbus, Ohio from Nov. 20 through Nov. 22 for the Ohio YMCA Youth & Government State Assembly.
Youth & Government is a national government and politics program that promotes civic literacy as well as community service.
In years previous, the program has only been open to students in high school, but in 2014 the program expanded, creating a new conference for middle school students.
“Last year, Charlie Myers, the Ohio Director for Youth & Government contacted me and asked me if we would be interested in doing it,” said Ryan Willis. Willis teaches both seventh and eighth grade social studies at South Webster. “I said ‘yes’ and we went. We took about 8 to 10 kids last year and we had a blast. We brought 14 kids this year.”
Students debate and vote on the bills that their fellow peers have written and presented. Bills that pass in committee are then taken to the floor of the House or Senate for full debate and vote. The students simulate all phases and positions of the actual state government.
Of the five bills that the South Webster students presented, four of them passed in both committee and the floor of the House.
“With last year being our first time, we had two bills last year and neither of our bills passed. To come back this year and have four out of our five pass, that was a big deal,” said Willis. “Some of the seventh graders I took up last year were scared to death, they were nervous to see the growth that they’ve displayed from last year to this year is just remarkable.”
The passing bills include: increased stem cell research, annual gun awareness and safety training in schools, reducing the role of the government in state testing practices and a bill to promote drug testing for those participating in government assistance programs, such as Welfare.
But the conference isn’t just for fun, many of the bills created by Youth & Government participants have gone on to become actual laws. A few examples include, the establishment of the “right on red,” driving law and ratification of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, granting the vote at age 18.
Students also hold the offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House and President of the Senate. Participants also engage in campaigns and elections for officers who will serve during the following year.
“One of our seventh graders, Gracie Claxon, was elected as President of the Senate for 2017. Next year, she’ll be in front of the Senate with the gavel running the show,” said Willis. “We’re excited to see what the future holds for the bills proposed and next years conference as well.”
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