More than four dozen students from the 59th Senate District travelled to Springfield this week to participate in the second meeting of State Sen. Dale Fowler’s (R-Harrisburg) Youth Advisory Council (YAC).
“This program is about giving students the opportunity to learn about and experience their state government directly, pulling back the curtain and enabling a younger generation to see how the legislative process operates here in Illinois,” said Sen. Fowler. “One of the most exciting parts about hosting this event is being able to interact with kids from my district who are motivated to make a difference, share their voices and be engaged.”
Students from 17 different schools across the district arrived at the Capitol on Feb. 28. Students began their day by visiting the Senate Chambers and touring the Capitol building before speaking with lawmakers who represent districts across the state. The students also heard from Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, a representative from the Chamber of Commerce, and the Acting Division Manager of Fairs and Promotional Services with the Department of Agriculture.
“State government is a culmination of so many moving parts with actors fulfilling very different, but still critical roles in crafting, debating and passing legislation,” said Sen. Fowler. “It’s great to have the opportunity to introduce these kids to speakers with unique perspectives that help represent different opinions, responsibilities and influence within our state’s policy process.”
When asked about his takeaways from today’s speakers, Jekairy Thomas from Cairo High School said, “One of the main things was to take advantage of the opportunities you have.”
Alexandria Hughes from Pope County High School also took away that, “If you want something, go for it. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure only builds you. And be proud of where you came from and where your home is.”
Later in the day, students were immersed in a simulation of Illinois’ legislative process, breaking into groups and participating in a mock committee hearing on legislation that was proposed by the students when they met in November. Students took on the roles of lawmakers, lobbyists, concerned citizens, and reporters in the process.
“I think it’s important for kids to do things like this because it kind of gives you a different perspective than what you just have,” said Morgan McKinnies Herrin High School student. “You come in and realize what people have and what they take away from things and why they view things the way they do. It kind of gives you a sort of reality check of what you believe and what you don’t believe.”
“This is something extremely important and valuable to your education. You’re only able to experience these kinds of things here and through programs like this. And if you do not take the opportunities presented to you, it’s your loss,” said Tyler Short from Marion High School.
Students spent the afternoon hearing testimony, lobbying and discussing their proposed legislation to expand the right to conceal and carry firearms in public parks and athletic facilities under the control of municipalities or park districts. At the end of the day, the students voted to pass their suggested proposal.
“This was my first time hosting this event in Springfield and I couldn’t be more impressed with the leadership and effort I saw at this Youth Advisory Council,” said Sen. Fowler. “Each and every student here rolled up their sleeves, put in the effort and engaged in the process. If what I saw here is any indication on what’s to come from these students, Southern Illinois will be proud to have these outspoken voices, leaders and role models represent our communities in the future.”