By Stacy Martin
Hundreds of high school students from across Oklahoma recently took seats in state government and met elected officials during the 60th anniversary of the YMCA Youth & Government State Conference last week at the Capitol.
“The Y’s Youth and Government program offers students a hands-on learning experience in a mock legislature that will hopefully inspire them to become active and concerned participants in government,” said Stan Barton, YMCA Youth & Government Program State Director.
Student delegates assumed the roles of state senator, state representative, and press during the conference.
The model youth legislature meets in a two-day legislative session presided over by student-elected state officials.
Students serving as elected officials will meet their real counterparts during the Governor’s luncheon. Participants include governor, lieutenant governor, Speaker of the house, senate president pro tempore, secretary of state, attorney general, chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, and presiding judge of the state court of appeals.
High school students from around the state who participate in YMCA’s Youth & Government model legislature program were able to participate in the lunch with their real counterparts at the State Capitol .
“Our program and conference builds a sense of responsibility and passion for issues, the desire to make a difference, citizenship skills, and tolerance of other viewpoints.” Barton said. “Ultimately, we help mold character in students with a strong focus on leadership development.”
Before the conference, students learn how to research public policy issues, write real legislation, practice public speaking and debating skills, and work together to achieve a goal through Youth & Government clubs at local Ys across the state.
Sen. Ralph Shorty said the program helped turn his life around. Shorty was a shy young boy with a stuttering problem from a small Oklahoma town. He spent several years struggling with his sense of social awkwardness before he discovered the Y program as a youth. He participated in debate, mock legislative sessions and other government functions, as they would happen at the state Capitol.
He never looked back. Today, he is a confident young man serving his constituents and upholding the best interests for them. He was involved in the early stages of the program when there were maybe 60 or 70. He credits Barton with its explosive growth in recent years. He is really something else,” Shorty said. “He’s tireless and has worked very, very hard to build it into what it is today.” Today, hundreds of youth are involved in the program, he said.
The mission of the Y is to teach social responsibility, good health to those in the community. Y programs are available to all, regardless of income or ability to pay.