MSSM students participate in YMCA Youth in Government Program

14 years ago

By Natalie Bazinet
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The annual YMCA Youth in Government Program held Nov. 12 – 14 at the Statehouse in Augusta gave 16 students of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics an opportunity to show that students of the magnet school excel in more than just chemistry and physics.


Photo contributed by MSSM student Imogen Page
Sixteen students of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics took part in this fall’s YMCA Youth in Government Program offered at the Statehouse in Augusta. Participants included, from left, front row: Elizabeth Coyne, Casey Thornton, Isabelle O’Bryon, Devin Ward and Nicole Giggey. Second row: James Lee, Alden Porter, Nikolai Hersfeldt, Gregory Ramey, Alex Foley, James Jelin, Peter Taddeo and Lucy Wilcox. Back row: David Reilley, Imogen Page, Heath Mathieson and MSSM Advisor Daniel Melega.


Of the roughly 130 students that participated this fall in the annual YMCA Youth in Government Program, only about nine student bills passed, and four of those bills were written by MSSM students. Six bills were nominated for “best bill,” and five of those were also written by MSSMers; the winning bill was written by MSSM student James Jelin, a second-year sophomore from Kennebunkport. In addition to writing some of the best student-written bills in the state, third-year senior Devin Ward of Greeneville was elected Speaker of the House. The magnet school doesn’t have the biggest delegation in the state, but the students certainly made their presence known at the Statehouse.

“The students had a really good time in Augusta and I had a really good time being down there for two days and getting to watch them apply some of the things they’ve learned in class,” said MSSM student advisor Dan Melega. “As a teacher, that’s one of the greatest things to see.”

While it was enjoyable for Melega to watch his students excel in the mock government, the students have also developed a bit of political passion from their Augusta weekend and the preparation leading up to the event.

“I never really considered going into politics at all before this program and I’m still not sure that it’s really a field that I’d necessarily be interested in, but I really do enjoy it,” Jelin said. His bill, voted “best bill,” was titled Giving Child Support Payments Priority Over Payments to Unsecured Creditors “and basically what that means is that when there’s a situation where somebody owes child support and they also owe money to a company or any creditor but they have some sort of line of credit (like stocks) this bill would make it so that the money would go to child support payments before it goes to the [indebted] company.”

bs-mssm-dcx-ar-47-clrPhoto contributed by MSSM student Imogen Page
Students of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics participated in the 2010 Fall YMCA Youth in Government Program held at the Statehouse in Augusta on Nov. 12 – 14. At left, Devin Ward, MSSM third-year senior from Greenville and MSSM second-year junior James Jelin of Kennebunkport discuss political matters at the Statehouse as part of the program. Ward was voted Speaker of the House for the weekend by her peers, and other students named Jelin’s bill “Best Bill.”

Jelin’s bill is similar to that of Alaska and in Federal Bankruptcy law, where child support is given payment priority over creditors; Jelin actually had an opportunity to pitch his bill to his local state representative Alan Casavant (D-Biddeford) and Casavant was quite receptive to the idea. Jelin is hoping that he can work with Casavant to get his bill passed (or at least presented) in the real House of Representatives by his legislator.

With the success (and fun) Jelin had with the bill, he’s looking to possibly write more than one bill next year, which according to student Speaker of the House Ward, is a relatively common thing.

“Participants aren’t required to write a bill [to participate in the program], so some students write five or six bills while others don’t write any or they write one or two,” she explained.

The relatively prolific nature of the participants directly weighed on Ward’s responsibilities as the Speaker of the House, as it was her duty to ensure that each and every bill written by the students had a chance to be heard.

“The goal of Youth in Government is to make sure that everyone’s bill is heard in the House and Senate, so I couldn’t give an hour and a half to one bill if it meant cutting out three others at the end,” she explained.

But assuring fair time wasn’t Ward’s only job as speaker; the legislators have hundreds of pages of script to learn with a different script for every kind of motion a legislator could possibly make, and she was expected to be better versed in the process than the rest of the students.

“Friday was training all day because we had a binder with huge amounts of script that we have to go through, and there’s different scripts for everything,” Ward explained. “The people who were training us were trying to mess us up and trying to get us to make mistakes which was very helpful and made the next two days a lot easier.”

Having an instructor throw a cog in the proverbial wheel was especially helpful for Ward, who had to keep dialogue moving along properly — Ward had to be the best versed with an epic sized binder of scripts.

Being the Student Speaker of the House is no easy task, which is why Ward was voted to the position by her peers during the preliminary regional Web cam meetings of delegations from Machias, Presque Isle, Kennebunk, Lewiston, Lawrence and Houlton.

“Devin’s done this program for two years prior to being the Speaker and she’s distinguished herself fairly well,” said Melega. “Devin is a very collaborative worker, someone who’s willing to listen to a variety of ideas and search for compromise and find the middle ground; she’s someone who can make friends with a large group of people and she did a very nice job presenting herself,” he added.

The qualifications and articulation that led to Ward’s election were demonstrated during her time as student Speaker even though the challenges varied seemingly hour to hour.

“Overall keeping track of what was going on was a challenge, but I had a little notepad with a shorthand I’d come up with the night before of exactly what I was going to use,” she said. Initially it was a challenge for her to stand up in front of 80 or 90 people, but she quickly overcame that challenge.

“That was a little nerve wracking, but when you have what you’re going to say in front of you, it’s definitely not as bad.”

By the time Sunday morning rolled around, Ward was well adjusted to her duties and comfortable with her job requirements; “by the end it was a breeze,” she said.

The Youth in Government Program is based around the idea that democracy needs to be learned by each generation, and Melega will be bringing another delegation of MSSMers back next year.

“I think the program really gives students an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of government,” he said. “They learn the procedural structure of government but they also learn the research component — they understand what they need to do to bring a good bill to the floor and be able to advocate for its behalf and then be able to convince others to vote for it. This notion of collaboration, of working with people from throughout the state, the art of compromise — it was an education experience for some of them and the advisors would throw a twist in the plot to get them to think on their feet, too,” he added. “Devin, James and the others who were down there, they got that experience and it brought a smile to my face to see them working through things on their own.”

Passing roughly nine bills in two days is quite an accomplishment for a student government, especially when many students are already passionate about government.

“One of the good things about Youth in Government is that there’s a lot more bi-partisanship than in real government and you don’t sit on a certain side based on party lines,” Jelin said. “Based on what students were saying, the majority of the people there were Independent so it wasn’t like a bill would come up and the Republicans would vote one way while the Democrats voted the other way; a bill would come up, everyone would say how they felt about it and then we’d vote,” he added.

Ward agreed with Jelin.

“The fact that we’re all students is something that is able to unite us and I think that’s one of the issues our legislators have, is that they’re having trouble finding something that they all agree on,” she said. “Where we’re all students, we’re all in the same position and we’re all doing the same things and we’re all in the process of learning; I think that alone is one of the reasons it makes it a lot easier for us to work together.”