Dohn Community High School made a second trip to the YMCA’s Youth In Government Conference in Columbus, Ohio, this April 2018. Like our inaugural trip in 2017, this year’s experience delivered a positive, life-changing impact for our student participants.
The 2018-year team had three lobbyists and two teams of legislators. This year’s participants included Trinity Adams, Mi’Quan Barfield, Amber Crittenden, Treveon Edwards, Warrick Fraley, Jr., Kandice Manuel, Kaela Ruff and Tyreiana Guider.
At the conference, our student lobbyists received training from professional lobbyists. True to the lobbyist profession, our student lobbyists experienced both the challenges and benefits of this work.
The challenges included having to race among multiple committee chambers to lobby for or against bills. Sometimes they missed being present for a bill because the docket changed or there was not sufficient time to get from one chamber to another. As Mr. Harry Raimey, teacher, shared, “That is what happens in real life. Sometimes things get missed, and you must be ready to stand accountable.”
The lobbyists also had to declare a pro or con stance on issues with which they did not personally align. Even in a mock setting, having to take a stand on something in which you are not aligned is a valuable life experience for a young person. Mr. Raimey put it into perspective when he shared, “One has to find a compromise or a workaround.”
Trinity, one of our lobbyists, was impressed with the scope of businesses and organizations that use lobbyists. “You can work for a cause or an organization; there is a lot of freedom with lobbyists,” she shared. Her takeaway from the Conference and the wisdom she wants to share with other Dohn students is, “Lobbyists have our future in their hands. We need to know how special interest groups and the legislative process works. We have to know who and what it is we are voting for, because, they are representing us.”
Treveon, another one of our lobbyists, felt strongly about bills he perceived as unfair. These bills included one on gerrymandering and another bill that enforces additional fees on vanity license plates, whether the driver opts in or opts out. He felt a mandatory charge was unfair, and yet he had to represent the bill. “It was a positive experience to learn how to express myself, and I got over my stage fright,” he says. “I got to know a lot of new people, and I got it on!”
This trip to Columbus was, for Mi’Quan, our third lobbyist, his first time out of Cincinnati. In this excursion, his innate skills as a networker and communicator came to light. “Mi’Quan was a natural,” says Mr. Raimey; when he walked into a room, peoples’ heads would turn.” As an indicator of this star quality, Mi’Quan was approached by a teacher from the University of Cincinnati, who shared his business card, and an invitation to network in the future. “You seize the opportunity when it comes to you,” MiQuan says. “You accomplish something great, and you take it with you.”
“Lobbyists have our future in their hands. We need to know how special interest groups and the legislative process works. We have to know who and what it is we are voting for, because, they are representing us.”
True to the benefits lobbyists enjoy, all three of our student lobbyists were treated to dinner, while our other student participants were not.
Warrick, one of our legislators, reports that his experience was “Fun, and I learned a lot from hearing different peoples’ views. Warrick presented a bill which proposed changing Ohio’s Conceal Carry Weapon (CCW) standard. The committee hearing this bill was impressed with what Warrick wrote into his bill. Warrick wanted to lower the age for a conceal carry weapon license from 21 to 18. His bill also included language with the provisions that would require minimum continuing firearms education/training and mandatory mental health evaluations for renewals.
Current Ohio standards for CCW permits require training for initial licensure and proof of a previously expired permit for renewals. While the committee rejected lowering the age from 21 to 18, they wanted to keep Warrick’s language that places more significant restrictions on renewals. Warrick was offered an opportunity to compromise and amend his bill. He stuck to his principles and declined to change the bill. Warrick’s proposal was defeated by a one-vote margin. “This is an experience I will always remember,” he says. “I was nervous about presenting, however, this is a chance to change our world, and integrity kicks in.”
Ms. Donna Foster reports that there is a lot of work involved in preparing for the Y & G Conference. “We start identifying students in the fall, and then we gather to brainstorm ideas. The group chooses which ideas they want to develop, and then we go into research mode. Each bill that the team develops has to have the pros and cons researched. Presenters have to be ready to debate and defend their ideas. Legislators have to go into a presentation knowing what angles the opposition is likely to take. “
Ms. Foster identifies the criteria necessary for participation. Students have to be:
Have good attendance
This year, the team started out with 51 students and three teacher/advisors and trip chaperones. The teachers involved in the 2018 Conference include Ms. Donna Foster, Mr. Harry Raimey, and Mr. Jonathan Williams. Out of the 58 students who started on this journey, eight students were prepared and ready to make the trip.
Both Ms. Foster and Mr. Raimey, the group’s chaperones, report feeling pride in our Dohn students’ representation. “There was not much racial diversity at this conference,” Mr. Raimey reports. “Our students stood out in their performance. They were taken seriously. People took note of their professional, focused presentation.”
Dohn’s professional presence was in contrast to other schools’ participants who were noted to present with the adolescent behavior of silliness. In contrast, “Mr. Raimey says, “Our students presented with poise. They were positive throughout the conference, and they presented themselves, and represented Dohn, with excellence. The Youth& Government conference gives our students a direct experience of civic responsibility.”
Ms. Foster reports overwhelming pride in seeing the result of success after months of hard work. From introducing this conference to the students to helping them develop bills, do the research, practice collaboration and communication, the students then step into the actual experience of the Conference. In a field of 300 participants from around the state, our students recognize new capacities within themselves, and new opportunities for the future. “Our students are on their way to greatness,” Ms. Foster beams!
Like year one, this second year was a resounding success. Dohn is building a school tradition with the Youth in Government conference. As we prepare for year three, Spring 2019, we welcome your support!