This weekend, Exeter High School’s Youth and Government Club participated in the YMCA’s annual mock legislature. Exeter’s delegation performed exceptionally well this weekend, adding substantive insight to debate and taking home several awards. Senior Eric Joy won the best lobbyist award and Senior Shereen Elaidi won a bill writing award.
Youth and Government Club: A Crash Course
The YMCA’s Youth and Government Club is a nationwide program focusing on providing a platform for politically engaged high school students to voice their opinion by emulating the state government. Each year, the Exeter High School delegation travels to the Statehouse in Concord to debate pre-written bills. Bills this year focused on an eclectic range of issues from Planned Parenthood to the state lottery. New Hampshire’s division of YMCA Youth and Government is one of the few remaining ones to hold the mock legislature in the actual NH Statehouse.
All bills originate in specific committees based on the nature of the bill. The bill sponsor introduces the bill, provides a brief speech, then answers the committee’s questions. Following the sponsor’s pitch, “members of the public” — lobbyists representing special interests — speak on behalf the bill. After the public session, the committee debates the merits and drawbacks of the proposed legislation. If the committee votes the bill as “ought to pass” the bill moves on to the House or Senate; if the committee marks the bill as “inexpedient to legislate” the bill dies. If there is a constitutional issue, the bill is sent to the Supreme Court for review. If the House or Senate marks the bill as “ought to pass,” the bill is sent to the Executive Council and the Governor for review. If they vote “yes” and the governor doesn’t veto the bill, it is signed into “law.”
Exeter High School’s Government Club was founded by the retired Social Studies teacher Ms. Vandersall and is currently run by English teacher Ms. Catcher and Social Studies teacher Ms. Saluto.
Government Club’s dynamic used to be different under Ms. Vandersall– according to Ms. Saluto, “the club had a lot of members and was very senior heavy.” The disproportionate amount of seniors — the Class of 2014 at the time — resulted in the club losing a significant number of members last year. A key issue for the advisers and club members is re-building the club and recruiting underclassmen.
Most EHS Government Club members prepare bills for the mock legislature. One of the club’s two presidents, Senior Jacob Poirier, introduced Senate Bill No. 5: The Addition of a Computer Science Requirement in Table 306-2 of the Minimum Standards for Public School Approval. Poirier stated that the “vague and abstract” nature of NH’s current information and communications technologies requirements prompted him to write the bill. SB No. 5 passed committee, but the Senate floor ran out of time while debating it.
Government Club’s other president, Senior Andrew MacDougall, co-authored House Bill No. 78 Relative to Court Appointed Attorneys with Sophomore James Kennish. MacDougall states that his inspiration for HB No. 78 came from “binge-watching clips from John Oliver’s show [while] procrastinating.” HB No. 78 was one of the few bills the Governor signed into law this year.
This is Ms. Saluto’s 3rd year and Ms. Catcher’s 4th year advising Government Club. Ms. Saluto stated that her cooperating teacher — the teacher she interned with — was Ms. Vandersall, so upon her retirement, it “seemed like a natural fit to advise Government Club.”
Ms. Catcher stated that while she’s an English teacher, she’s very politically active. She got her Bachelor’s in political science and states that she made most of her friends through involvement in college government clubs. “If I had a government club in high school, I would’ve loved it,” Ms. Catcher said, “I want to make sure students here get that opportunity.”
MacDougall states that his three years as a Government Club member has “been a lot of fun” and has allowed him to “grow a lot as a person because of it.” He plans on “remaining as politically active as possible” next year in college.
“One of the biggest things I’ve taken out of Youth and Government is that our governmental system isn’t far removed and inaccessible, but relatively easy to participate in.” – Eric Joy, Senior.
Kennish states that his “career in Youth and Government has been extremely exciting” and has allowed him to “make great friends [and] create amazing memories.” First-timer Eric Joy, a senior, reflects that “One of the biggest things I’ve taken out of Youth and Government is that our governmental system isn’t far removed and inaccessible, but relatively easy to participate in.”
Government Club Members Reflect on the Weekend
Most EHS representatives were members of the House, the largest component of the mock legislature. Joy and Junior Michael Clements were lobbyists, Poirier was a Senator, and Kennish was a writer for the press corps. The advisers were responsible for mediating debate in the House Education I committee and overseeing House discussion.
Joy stated that “lobbyists were able to pick groups, or even make one up, to represent the beliefs we wanted to convey. In that sense, we had an unrealistic amount of freedom over our discourse.” Joy cited the small window of time allotted for the public session as a challenge, as it made talking on a specific bill difficult due to the lack of precise bill scheduling. Despite this, Joy states that he “wouldn’t have traded the freedom and fun of lobbying for any other position.”
Ms. Saluto cited Exeter’s “consistent and active contribution to debate” as a great success, as well as the recognition of two EHS students for their work despite holding no positions this year. Both advisers agreed that observing debate in Education I and the House was empowering and satisfying. Ms. Saluto described Education I as a committee “made up of kids very dedicated to the program.”
“The committee was phenomenal,” Ms. Catcher added, “it was great to watch teens dissect bills.” Ms. Catcher stated that the “House was awesome. Watching our students take full control — knowing that if we leave chaos won’t ensue — is one of our proudest moments as teachers.”
Ms. Catcher said that there weren’t too many challenges this weekend, stating that “we always feel comfortable bringing Exeter” to Concord. Ms. Saluto argued that the most significant challenge was seeing all the Exeter students “in action because they’re all spread out” in various committees.
Government Club meets in Ms. Catcher’s room, G108, on Monday afternoons. If you’re interested in joining, either drop by a meeting or email one of the club’s presidents, Andrew MacDougall (email@example.com) or Jacob Poirier (firstname.lastname@example.org).