Avondale Students Shine at Youth In Government Conference

Eighth-grader elected Speaker of the House,

while classmates write four of top thirty bills sent to Youth Governor

Thirty-one sixth, seventh and eighth grade students from Avondale Middle School participated in the State YMCA Youth In Government conference November 22-24 at the Capitol in Lansing and came back with amazing results. Youth In Government, sponsored by YMCA of Michigan, is designed to engage middle school students in becoming thoughtful and active citizens versed in the principles of a democratic society. Dannon Holley, new principal at Avondale Middle School tasked Avondale teacher Maria Kopicki with preparing the students to compete in Lansing during the conferences which tests students’ knowledge of the legislative process. Students conduct legislative sessions at the House and Senate Chambers in the State Capitol. Bills for the Youth In Government Legislature are prepared by the students for this state law-making experience. Each Youth Legislator is required to write and present a legislative bill on a state issue.

(L-R) Qijia Zhou (elected Speaker of the House), Amanda Dowd and Hannah Bahorski (wrote one of 12 bills signed by the Youth Governor), Avondale teacher Maria Kopicki, and Jack Youngs and Jad Fakhoury (also wrote one of 12 bills signed by the Youth Governor)

(L-R) Qijia Zhou (elected Speaker of the House), Amanda Dowd and Hannah Bahorski (wrote one of 12 bills signed by the Youth Governor), Avondale teacher Maria Kopicki, and Jack Youngs and Jad Fakhoury (also wrote one of 12 bills signed by the Youth Governor)

Prior to the competition, students spent time researching topics and state issues and twenty-two students submitted twelve bills. Randomly assigned to committees of Senators and Representative, Youth Legislators learned basic parliamentary procedure, committee procedure, and the rules of the Model Legislature. In committee, legislators debated, amended passed and defeated legislation dealing with the bills assigned to their committee. On the floor of the House and Senate, members debated, amended and voted on the bills. If passed, the bills go on to the second house. If passed again, the bill is sent to the Youth Governor for consideration.

Avondale students had a strong showing in their first visit to the competition attended by 600 students from around the State including the election of eighth-grader Qijia Zhou as Speaker of the House. After being elected to serve in this important role, Qijia ran meetings using Parliamentary Procedure sitting in the House chair in the Capitol Building. In addition, of the thirty bills – out of hundreds submitted – sent to the final round for the Youth Governor’s approval, four of the thirty were written by Avondale students.

One bill drafted by eighth-graders Jad Fakhoury and Jack Youngs and titled, A Bill to Change the Consequences of a First Time M.I.P. (Minor in Possession) Offense to a Civil Infraction as Opposed to a Misdemeanor, was drafted by the students after weeks of research and consideration of what they felt was the long-term impact of a mistake possibly brought on as a result of peer pressure. “The students felt strongly that people deserve a second chance if they make a mistake. They really researched and were able to answer questions during their sessions which helped get their bill pushed through to the Governor,” said Kopicki. Students Hannah Bahorski and Amanda Dowd also had a bill signed by the Youth Governor. Their bill, A Bill to Mandate Death with Dignity in the State of Michigan to Mentally Competent and Terminally Ill Adults was something the students had second thoughts about but moved it forward anyway because they realized that at times, elected officials must represent their constituents regardless of their own feelings about an issue. Two other bills crafted by Avondale students and making it to the top thirty for the Governor’s consideration were A Bill to Change Eligibility for Chinese Drivers with a Foreign License to Drive in Michigan written by eighth-graders Siddharth Saravanan and Foster Caragay; and A Bill to Prohibit Smoking While Being Treated for Lung Disease written by seventh-grader Elena Toomajian. The bills that are signed by the Youth Governor are sent to actual real-life state legislators for consideration.

In addition to the experience for students learning the legislative process, nine Avondale students participated in the Political Compromise Program – an activity that requires cooperation and compromise to create a single policy based on a current state or national topic. This year’s topic was Should Michigan Allow Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking)? The expectation of the students was to develop one policy for Michigan to adopt as its hydraulic fracturing policy. The Political Compromise participants represented one of three groups that have an interest in the topic, and together, reached a compromise. Seventh grade students Anjika Jain and Ajay Sumanth earned the roles of committee chairs.

Kopicki, who has served many students throughout her career in and outside of the classroom, was thrilled with the opportunity for her students to participate in the conference. She is proud of how well the students fared during the competition, “They are such a bright, hard-working and intelligent group. It has been a total pleasure to work with them these past few months. They put so much time and effort into learning the legislative process. I love their passion and determination – they make me love my job!”

Jennifer Rosasco, parent of eighth-grade Joey, traveled with the group to Lansing and was impressed by the opportunity for the students to have this real-world experience. “The hands-on experience my son gained about the legislative process was amazing. Mrs. Kopicki taught him so much about writing a bill and parliamentary procedure. Joey’s favorite part was debating bills on the house floor with students from around Michigan. All of the students represented Avondale very well.”

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