Dozens of students from across the 53rd Senate District travelled to Pontiac to try their hand at passing legislation recently. The event is part of State Senator Jason Barickman’s annual Youth Advisory Council (YAC) program.
“These students are the next leaders of our communities, our state, and potentially even our country,” said Barickman. “This program is a chance to engage them in the processes of government and to learn more about issues that are important to them.”
Barickman’s YAC is open to high school students who live in the 53rd Senate District. The spring meeting of the program is typically held in Springfield. However, due to COVID protocols and the abbreviated legislative session, this year the event was held in Pontiac at the Eagle Performing Arts Center.
The students discussed ideas in the morning and had a chance to hear from elected officials and others involved in state and local government. In the afternoon, the students held a mock committee hearing to debate a legislative proposal.
“I love the idea of government and being involved in government. I’m actually running for a local office in my own hometown, so getting to talk to the Senator and Representatives gives me a good idea of how to act and how to work in government,” said Paxton Buckley Loda High School student Carson Vaughn. “It’s good to be a communicator, it’s good to be understanding of people on the other side of the aisle and to listen to them. Listening goes a lot further than not listening.”
“There’s so many teenagers around who don’t know what is going on and don’t understand their government, so if they understand it more, it will be more interesting to them,” said Eureka area homeschool student Faith Grider. “My sister and I wrote a letter to Barickman and three days later we actually got a call. They actually like hearing from people like us.”
During the committee hearing, the students took on various roles, including as lawmakers from both parties, lobbyists, concerned citizens, reporters, and even the Governor.
“It’s definitely important for young people to get involved because all policies affect us,” said Woodland High School student Aydan Radke. “Meeting a bunch of different people from different walks of life and different point of views is really beneficial.”
“I think it’s super important for kids to learn how government works because it’s a huge thing in their life,” said Prairie Central High School student Kenna Skaggs. “I’m learning a lot, it’s been a lot of fun to see how everything works in government. It’s been really cool to interact with kids from other schools and be able to just hear their background, hear where they come from, and be able to see their own personal community and how they relate it back to what we’re doing today.”
Students, regardless of their own political persuasion or personal feelings about the proposal, ably took on their assigned positions and led a passioned discussion about a redistricting proposal.
“It’s amazing to hear the students discuss and debate ideas. They are extremely intelligent and passionate about what they believe in,” said Barickman. “I hope they leave here with a passion for the democratic process and hopefully a desire to serve the public.”
The Senator plans to return his YAC to its traditional format in 2023, with a fall meeting in the district, and spring meeting at the Capitol during legislative session. Barickman encourages high school students in the 53rd Senate District to ask their teachers and administrators about taking part in next year’s YAC program.