Participation in Youth in Government (YIG) is a well-established tradition for many Cincinnati area high schools. Through this program, Ohio high school students experience democracy at the state government level through student-led mock legislation, executive, and judicial processes and as student lobbyists and press corp. Thanks to a series of cascading events, Dohn students made the trip this year.

Dohn’s involvement came through the acute perception of one teacher, Harry Raimey. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump played on a classroom TV. Dohn has a practice of co-teaching, and Raimey noted to his co-teaching partner, Nik Otto, that the students stopped idle chatter and were talking amongst themselves about issues related to the debate.

A dynamic teaching pair, they came up with the idea to organize a debate team. Another teacher, Ms. Donna Foster, heard about the debate team and proposed taking it a step further. While at a previous school, Ms. Foster took a group of students to YIG and knew it to be a life-changing experience. In what she describes as “the best teacher committee I have ever experienced,” these three teachers shepherded 51 Dohn students through the process of legislative bill research and development, debate opposition data gathering, debate practice, and preparation for their journey.

Nine out of the 51 students who started the process made it through the four-month preparation and were able to go on the trip. Factors like school attendance, not showing up for legislative bill preparation meetings and behavioral issues were disqualifying factors.

Our students’ legislative bills and their outcomes include:

Legislative Bill #GS 20 Gun Registry Resolution; did not pass either the Senate Committee—the bill was brought before the student Ohio Supreme Court on a Second Amendment violation

Legislative Bill #GH 12 Public Transportation for Public Housing; debated in House Committee and Chamber Floor; did not pass House debate.

Legislative Bill #SS 23 Dog Owner Fair Choice and Housing Resolution; passed both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate; signed into law by Ohio student governor

While there were many trip highlights for our teachers and students, the following stand out.

Raimey says, “When I witnessed our students interact with the student legislative press core with dignity and professionalism, I felt immense pride. What we do matters.” For Foster, tears welled up when she saw Dohn “Students respond with kindness, poise, and confidence as they interacted with students” from throughout the state, most of whom are from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. “Our students showedup and showed out, they were so professional,” she adds.

Otto points out that government and social studies classes have no direct connection in the lives of Dohn students. “A trip like this provides a rare experience for experiential learning,” he adds.

Kendell Simpson, 11th grade, is one student who made the trip. His bill was about undoing the residence restriction ban for people owning pit bulls. His bill passed both Chambers of the House and Senate. The Chamber sessions were a highlight for Simpson because he said students had the floor and everyone listened. “A lot of kids should get this experience,” he adds, “I did not want to leave. It felt free to meet new kids from different places, and there was no trouble.”

Kandice Manuel, 10th grade, proposed a bill to restrict gun laws in public places. While it did not pass either House or Senate, Manuel had the good fortune to present her bill to the Ohio Supreme Court. The presentation was intense because students on the Judicial Bench were fierce in demanding that she defend the value of the bill. Manuel reports that she “Had to think on my feet and step out of my comfort zone.”

While her bill did not go forward, she adds, “I left satisfied and happy.” Her takeaway: “Everyone has a voice. Don’t give up. Go through everything. Do not let anyone stop you. Everyone has a right to believe in one’s self.”

Morgan Walton, 9th grade, was lead presenter on the pit bull bill. Highlights of his experience include the sense of equality among all of the students at the conference. “We are all on the same level; we have conversations and express opinions, and everyone gets to share, be listened to and be acknowledged.” The direct experience of thinking on his feet, claiming his voice, prompts Walton to share his takeaway: “Keep trying; don’t worry about what others say.”

Enthusiasm for this experience is high and the students and teachers who participated this year want to attend Youth in Government, 2017. They want more Dohn students to join them. Toward that end, Dohn actively seeks a corporate sponsor for our Debate Team. We welcome funding for team uniforms and transportation, lodging and expenses involved in attending debate team meets. Dohn Community High School also actively seeks a local law office with interest in social justice for mentoring and paralegal vocational support for our exceptional students who are eager to train for a career in law. If you are interested in supporting Dohn Community High School in these ways, please contact 513 281-6100 or info@dohnschool.org

The teachers wish to acknowledge and thank the Free Store Food Bank who provided clothing for our students to attend Youth in Government 2016.