Students learned more about government and polished their leadership skills while spending three days at the state Capitol for the Youth and Government program.
“If you would have asked me the very first year, can students lead and run a conference, I would have just laughed and said no they really can’t. But the students really take the lead, and they really can,” said Whitney Chandler, conference director.
The 66th annual conference attracted more than 340 students last month for the mock Legislature, judicial and executive programs, with broadcast and print media programs also offered.
“I have learned that government is really hard, but … it is worth it. It is something we need,” said Abigail Dennis, a legislative delegate from Stillwater.
Planning begins several months before the conference, and legislative participants submit mock bills.
“The students really get to know other people, and when they are here, they can be somebody new. They don’t have to be the stereotype that they maybe are in their high school, and a lot of them really flourish here,” Chandler said.
“The memories you make here are amazing. … This is my second year, and I already have a lifetime full of memories,” Dennis said.
Legislative, media programs
Each year 25 students from Oklahoma are chosen for the Conference on National Affairs, a division of the national Youth and Government program. The conference includes legislative and media programs.
Judicial delegates can attend the National Judicial Competition in Chicago, with 28 chosen.
“Before I started this program, we always learned what the three branches in government were in class … but we never really got to see it in action. So this program is really cool because we get to see everything in action,” said Sierra Brown, chief justice and a Deer Creek High Schools student.
The conference also has an executive branch, with a governor taking on the job of signing and vetoing bills.
“Being in this program, has not only taught me how to respectfully and politely debate differing opinion, but it also has taught me the importance of having an open mind on issues,” said Lyndsey Speer, governor for the conference and a Stillwater High School student.
Each day during the conference, a newspaper is produced about topics and bills. Broadcast students produce several newscasts.
“I have other leadership positions, but this is the one that expects the most from me and is the one I feel most passionate about,” said Saskia Ghosh, state print editor for the program and a Stillwater High School student.
The conference was sponsored this year by the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City, Sumners Foundation and the Oklahoma Bar Foundation.
CAPTION: Zoe Charles, left, and Cassie Degroot, from Stillwater High School, present their bill in the mock Oklahoma Senate. [Photo by Eriech Tapia, for The Oklahoman].