Some 7th and 8th graders attended the New York State YMCA Middle School Youth & Government Conference in Albany in November 2018. The Youth & Government program immerses students in the political process in an authentic environment.
Prior to the conference, students researched issues they felt needed to be addressed in government and developed comprehensive bills that included the bill's purpose, the actual language of the proposed law, justification, and fiscal implications. The bills produced by CDMS students focused on topics related to school safety, school lunches and homelessness.
At the conference, students interacted with approximately 300 other students from school districts across the state.
Students met in model Assembly and Senate groups that presented their bills to committees. Participants then asked questions about the bills and engaged in a series of rigorous debates. Students were always expected to follow formal procedure.
Students also visited the Capitol building, and some bill groups had the opportunity to present their bills for debate and vote on the Senate and Assembly floors. Complete with a microphone operator, name placards, and a spot in an existing legislators chair, this authentic experience showed students the power they have in creating change in their communities. When groups weren't debating in the Chambers, they had a tour of the Capitol building.
The day after the conference, select students were presented awards for their outstanding participation and contributions at the conference. Two Cairo-Durham students, Colin MacGiffert (7th) and Lauren Coletti (8th), received awards.
Overall, the conference was an exhilarating and intellectual experience for students. Students not only learned about the political process, they also practiced their public speaking skills, showed extensive critical thinking on complex issues relevant to today's society, acted professionally, and developed stronger social skills as they interacted with a wide-range of people. Students also learned that despite deep disagreements on issues, there are many ways to bridge political differences, beginning with a smile and a handshake.