Fifty-seven students from 20 schools in central Illinois came to Springfield March 4 to experience first-hand the workings of their state government, as part of Senator Chuck Weaver’s Youth Advisory Council.
The students were recommended by officials from their respective schools to participate in the program, which initially met on October 21 at Bradley University in Peoria.
“Our Youth Advisory Council provides a valuable up-close and hands-on experience of state government to some of our best and brightest young people in the 37th District,” said Senator Weaver. “These high school students see the General Assembly in action, which complements what they have learned in the classroom about the process of passing laws in Illinois.”
On March 4, the students first met with Senator Weaver and other legislative officials in the Senate Chambers, then heard presentations by different professional occupations involved in the lawmaking process, from lobbyists to legislative staff members.
Local journalist Eugene Daniel, who anchors the evening news at WMBD News in Peoria, was a special guest (pictured at left).
Students then took on the roles of lawmakers, the Governor, concerned citizens, lobbyists, and reporters in a mock committee hearing to debate and vote on foster care reform – a topic they chose at their first Youth Advisory Council meeting on October 21.
After hearing testimony about proposed foster care reform legislation from the students serving as lobbyists and concerned citizens, the students serving as lawmakers voted on the issue. A student serving as Governor then weighed in on the decision.
“Our Youth Advisory Council members see all the many components and participants involved in making laws that govern all of our daily lives. They quickly learn that any of a number of factors can quickly throw a wrench into the process,” Senator Weaver said. “They discuss and debate, listen to what other citizens and other groups have to say, and work to hammer out a compromise – all skills that will serve them well in school, careers and other future endeavors.”
Three of the participants – Rasheedah Na’Allah, a Dunlap High School sophomore; Matthew Moorman, a Peoria Christian High School senior; and Keanan Dean, an Alwood High School senior – said the March 4 Youth Advisory Council in Springfield gave them unique insights into government, as well as provided professional development opportunities like public speaking and networking with students from other schools in their region.
“I think it is very important to do events like this, not only to take you out of your comfort zone, but to get to learn the experience of somebody who day to day does these types of things, arguing bills and laws, and being able to better our society and our county, to help the citizens who live in it,” said Na’Allah. “I think I am definitely going to take away the skill of … being able to listen to all the opposing and supporting points. It is important to listen to what they have to say in order to proceed.”
Moorman said the Youth Advisory Council helped him better understand state government.
“I think it is very important for young people to understand how government works so they can in turn become an active part of it. You can’t have government without the people, and you can’t have government unless people are involved in it,” Moorman said. “I think it is important for youth to get an understanding of this because ultimately it is going to impact how they live. We are going to be the future Senators, the future lobbyists. We need to understand how it works so we can step into that role one day.”
Dean has been a member of several of Senator Weaver’s Youth Advisory Councils and says he keeps participating because he likes to learn forms of government and roles of leadership.
“I think it is important for me to take this information from this conference and be able to apply it within my own school so that other people who do not get the opportunity to come here can also experience it,” Dean said. “Looking at Sen. Weaver’s message, the points he made about knowing your values, your worth and your levels of goals, that’s something I will take home so that I evaluate my own values, my three levels of goals, and my personal worth.”
When asked if he would recommend the Youth Advisory Council to other students, Dean responded, “If you ever get the opportunity to do this, you should really give it a try. If you find out it’s not your thing, still advocate it for other people.”
Students, parents, and teachers interested in the Youth Advisory Council are encouraged to contact Senator Weaver’s office at 309-693-4921 for more information.