DOVER — While lawmakers are on break, about 150 students took over Legislative Hall on Friday.
Middle and high school students from across the state experienced government firsthand as part of the Youth in Government program sponsored by the YMCA.
The morning started with an address from Gov. Jack Markell and the student governor Jarod Wilson, from the Western Family YMCA.
Then, after a break for lunch, students got right to work.
During the three-day conference, legislators will debate the bills that they crafted, appellants will plead their cases, lobbyists will push their causes, and journalists will document it all.
And most participants can’t even legally vote yet.
Nicole Freedman, the program director, said the goal of the weekend is to “find your voice.”
“As you speak up more often you’ll figure out the things you’re passionate about and meet other people,” she said.
“And if you already know what you’re passionate about this is an opportunity for you to really have a platform and for you to practice public speaking and get the opinion of your peers, as well.”
Through the program, students learn parliamentary procedure and the legislative committee process. They learn how to conduct caucuses and write bills. They elect a chief justice and a governor.
Most students began meeting in delegations in the winter, Ms. Freedman said.
Toph Patterson is the adult adviser for the Dover delegation, which is comprised of students with a range of ages from several different schools, including Dover High School, St. Thomas More Academy and Postlethwait Middle School.
“It’s good because we draw from a more diverse group,” he said.
Mr. Patterson said that through the program, students learn how to think on their feet faster and practice their public speaking skills.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “It’s fun, especially just watching the kids who go through it develop self-confidence and gain an awareness of state issues and the world around them.”
On Friday afternoon, Emma Patterson, a senior at Dover High School, was presenting a mock bill for practice inside Legislative Hall.
The bill would raise the fine for buying alcohol for minors from $100 to $1,000.
“This is to lay a baseline ... from here we can build up to improve the system,” she said in her closing remarks.
Emma, who is Mr. Patterson’s daughter, has been participating in the program for five years.
“I love all of it. I love being able to speak, and people will listen to and respect your opinion,” she said.
“It’s a very friendly, open environment. You get to find a lot of people to agree with you or, even better, disagree.”
She said the program has helped her form strong opinions, “but also, if you do have a strong opinion, you have to listen to other people more.”
The Dover YMCA has a delegation for anyone interested in participating in Dover.
For more information on the Youth in Government program, visit www.yigde.org.