Category Archives: Texas

Student Superheroes: All Suited Up

YMCA Texas YG District 5
YMCA Texas Youth and Government District 5 Conference

Last Saturday, I spent my day surrounded by 1500 middle and high school superheroes suited up in business attire for the YMCA Texas Youth and Government (YG) District 5 Conference. Their superpower, however, does not come from the outside appearance. Rather, it emanates from the inside, from well-honed critical thinking skills. And it’s an awesome force to behold!

My Badge: YMCA Texas YG District 5
My Badge: YMCA Texas YG District 5

Students from schools in the North Texas area who participate in the District Conference take part in one of the following tracks: Senior Legislative, Junior Legislative, Judicial, State Affairs for High School and Middle School, and Media. Not only do they conduct mock trials, and propose, debate, and pass legislation; they also campaign and vote for state offices. Alex Searles, McKinney’s candidate for District Governor, was elected to office. He and his team will now campaign for State office at the State Conference in Austin in January. 

YMCA Texas YG District 5 Governor
New YMCA Texas YG District 5 Governor from McKinney

This was my first YMCA YG District experience. All the McKinney schools take a collaborative approach by working together as a community with one voice, rather than pitting schools against each other. I love being part of the McKinney family of volunteer advisors. Most are parents with kids in the programs, but others [like me] participate because we love kids AND the governmental processes.

I was privileged to serve as a Senior Legislative Committee evaluator during the day. As the students present their bills, ask questions, offer pro and con arguments, and amendments, we evaluate their debate skills. We look at grammar and organization, quality of oral delivery, quality of questions, and relevance to the debate. Many of the kids are new to public speaking, and this experience offers them a safe place to practice their skills. As evaluators, we not only score their effort, but also offer suggestions on how to improve. 

The bills they brought forward in committee offer an interesting window into their cultural perspectives on current issues — some of which surprised me. The maturity of thinking, demonstrated by the strength of arguments they posed to bill authors, and creative approaches to solutions, was simply astounding. For instance, one student offered an intriguing bill to require bars to create a menu of “panic button” drinks that allow patrons to let bartenders know they need help. For example, a bar can create the “cotton candy/peppermint drink with ice” — with the “coded menus” posted in the bathrooms. A different code would be posted in the male and female bathrooms, with the instruction that ordering this drink means ‘I need someone to escort me to my car’ or ‘call the police.’ The bars will change out the panic button drink menus each month. The kids asked great questions: such as, what if the bartender blows you off when you order the panic button drink? What if the bartender is the aggressor? What about male-on-male assault — the panic button poster in the men’s room would be meaningless? How would the state enforce the panic button bill? What if someone orders the panic button drink without knowing what it means?The bill’s author fielded all the questions well, and the bill passed out of committee.

Other bills included the elimination of race designations from college applications, a law requiring abuse shelters for men in each county, annual high school vision screening requirements, racial profiling educational training to be conducted by police at local high schools. One student offered a bill to prevent the release of the names of officers involved in a shooting, to protect them from harm by angry community members. The debate revolved around transparency, freedom of speech in social media, punishment for ‘leakers’, and personal/family safety concerns. These kids aren’t afraid to take socially volatile positions, for the sake of debate.

Austin Capitol

What’s next? The State Conference in Austin. Students from across the state will take over the State House and Senate chambers to practice the governance process. I’m thrilled to watch them grow into their roles as leaders of tomorrow. From what I can see, we’re in GREAT hands!

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Filed under state government, Texas, YMCA

Youth in Government

I am an unabashed govvie. I nerd out on the governmental process — which can be totally distinct from bureaucracy. Bureaucratic processes can be found in most well-established, hierarchical organizations to ensure decisions at the top flow down. As a non-linear, disruptive thinker, I’m generally not a fan of bureaucratic practice, but rather the role of democracy to represent the people and bring about public good — which is an inherently governmental process. The social science behind how we govern fascinates me, while the politics of human nature can be tedious. I believe in the inherent goodness of our democratic processes in the US, but understand that even the best system can be misused and abused for personal gain. This is not an indictment of our current political environment, by any means, because history is rife with examples of political intrigue and discord. It’s in our best interest, as a nation, to train our youth to be thoughtful, passionate future leaders who can problem-solve and make reasonable decisions for our nation. To this end, I’m thrilled to take part in the YMCA Youth in Government program.

See. Government really IS fun! Just look at those faces. Image credit: YMCA Texas

See. Government really IS fun! Just look at those faces. Image credit: YMCA Texas

Here’s why I love this program: it’s all about “equipping a generation to improve our nation.” The YMCA Texas Youth and Government program offers hands-on student-led activities to learn about, and practice, the governance processes at the State level. By participating, I have an opportunity to help prepare the leaders for tomorrow.

YMCA Youth in Government mission: “To help teenagers become responsible citizens and future leaders of our nation.”

Floor debate at the Texas Capitol. Image credit: YMCA TX

Floor debate at the Texas Capitol. Image credit: YMCA TX

This weekend, I attended an all-day training for advisors. I serve on the McKinney city team, specifically at McKinney Boyd High School. I’ve attended two after-school Youth in Government club meetings at Boyd so far, with another one today. My role will be to help guide them in selecting bill topics, edit the bills they draft, accompany them to the district and state conferences — and whatever else they throw my way. I learned a great deal at the training, including details about the key areas of programming that students can take part in.

Legislative – Grades 6-12: Students discuss topics of interest related to Texas law, research the topics in order to write a one page bill, learn and follow Parliamentary Procedures, lead discussions in committees and on the floor of the House and Senate, learn debating skills, and practice public speaking skills.

Judicial – Grades 9-12: – Students study an actual criminal or civil case for trial or appellate court, including procedures, rules of evidence, objections, laws for precedence, then serve as attorneys, appellate attorneys, and witnesses.

Media – Grades 9-12: Students learn about the role of the media, research current issues, practice writing and editing skills, as well as technical skills associated with camera equipment, online publishing, and social media.

State Affairs Forum – Grades 6-12: Students research current issues and draft one page proposals to solve an issue, learn and practice Parliamentary Procedure, and practice debating skills.

While the YMCA Texas Youth and Government program is modeled after the competitive political environment that exists at the local and federal level, the YMCA Model United Nations is designed around collaborative problem-solving practices.

YMCA Texas Youth In Government participants. Image credit: YMCA Texas

Go Texas! Image credit: YMCA Texas

So far, they boast 40 state programs with 25,000 students and over 3000 volunteer advisors. I get to bump up their stats by one, as I dive into my role as advisor to the local McKinney club. I look forward to learning and growing with the students in our local club — especially at the State Conference in January in Austin at the Texas State Capitol.

Austin, here we come!


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Filed under leadership, McKinney, Texas