Program brings CHHS to the Capitol

For a lot of teenagers of our generation, politics is the last thing they want to worry about. It is hard for many to catch up on the innumerable current events happening in our world, and for those that try, it’s often exhausting and infuriating. But what if you want to be informed on the latest news? What if you want to experience what it’s like to be on the other side of the spectrum? 

Minnesota Youth in Government (MNYIG), a program run by the YMCA, is an extracurricular offered to students across the state in order to dive into how each branch of the government interacts with each other and how they create effective laws. It is now a new ENCORE class here at Columbia Heights High School to prepare interested students for college and potential careers in the fields of government and political science. There are currently about 20 students enrolled in the class at CHHS.

Columbia Heights Public Schools adopted the ENCORE program in 2009, but it has now flourished into an activity that students from 4th through 12th grade can participate in. 

“ENCORE is designed to provide engaging, hands-on, 21st-century offerings,” the Columbia Heights Public Schools district website says. “ENCORE offers extended learning opportunities focused on technology, arts, environmental studies, health/fitness and academic support.”

Other examples of ENCORE classes include Reader’s Theatre at Valley View Elementary, the American Indian Culture Club at Columbia Academy, and science teacher Mr. Zach Johnson’s long-running Spark-Y Aquaponics Engineering class here at CHHS. 

ENCORE is funded by a grant from the Minnesota Department of Education. The grant$250,000 per year for three to five yearsis designed to bring advanced education to students in the Columbia Heights public school district. The district is currently in the third and final year of our 2017-2020 grant. The district has various partnerships with companies like the St. Paul Conservatory and the Northern Clay Center. If MNYIG ends up going well, it’s safe to assume that the district may be looking to partner with the YMCA in the next few years.

The tradition of Youth in Government dates back to 1936 when a convention called “Model Assembly” was hosted in Albany, New York in order to create a model legislature with students in the House, Senate and even a Youth Governor. Ten years later, Minnesota created their own model legislature. There are now 41 states and about 25,000 students active each year in programs through Youth in Government. 

“I led this program for about four years at a previous school,” social studies teacher and Minnesota Youth in Government adviser Ms. Natasha Olubajo said. “I saw that students learned a lot about public speaking, leadership, compromising, and debate, so I thought it would be a good opportunity for our school.”

Each year, 1,600 participants from across the state meet at their own Model Assembly in the Twin Cities to create their model legislature and have mock trials based off the Minnesota state government and speak about local issues. There is a youth press that creates newspapers and segments in order to keep branches aware of what actions others are taking and to mimic real-life media. They take trips to the State Capital Building, the Minnesota Judicial Center, the State Office Building and the Minnesota Senate Building. CHHS members of MNYIG stayed at a hotel for a weekend this month attended the program. 

“It was a great experience because I got to experience what a real court is like,” Elcin Ay (10) said. “But my favorite part was meeting lots of people from all sorts of different places that share a common interest.”

They all received a role in the government when they went to an event and learned what the trip and mock trials would be like. They then went off with their own partners, and with distributed materials, they learned more about their branch. 

“Everyone was so welcoming,” Ay said. “All the students were helping each other. This made me feel like a part of something bigger.”

Youth in Government is an excellent opportunity for students interested in learning more about the branches of the government in which to participate. It gives students true realistic insight on how each piece of the government fits together with its many simulations using the State Capitol complex. 

Today, politics affect our lives more and more. Teens should take every opportunity they can to learn about what actions they can take to stand up for what they believe in.