Fifty-five students from 22 high schools in central Illinois came to Springfield April 3 to experience first-hand the workings of their state government, as part of State Sen. Chuck Weaver’s Youth Advisory Council.
The students were recommended by officials from their respective schools to participate in the program, which initially met on Dec. 6 at Bradley University in Peoria.
“Bringing these fine young men and women to Springfield gives them a hands-on view of state government. They get a better idea of the lawmaking process and what is involved,” said Weaver (R-Peoria). “This experience complements their classroom education as they see in action what they have learned about government from their teachers.”
On April 3, the students first met with Sen. Weaver and other legislative officials in the Senate Chambers, then heard presentations by different professional occupations involved in the lawmaking process, from lobbyists to legislative staff members.
Students then took on the roles of lawmakers, concerned citizens, lobbyists, and reporters in a mock committee hearing to debate and vote on a proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution setting term limits for lawmakers – a topic they chose at their first Youth Advisory Council (YAC) meeting on Dec. 6.
After hearing testimony from the students serving as lobbyists and concerned citizens, the students serving as lawmakers proposed an amendment to their bill before voting on the issue.
“These young people discuss and debate their issue, listen to the input of citizens and other groups concerned about the outcome of the legislation, then work together to come to a compromise,” said Weaver. “This experience also provides them with the kinds of skills that will serve them well as they continue to develop into our future leaders.”
Two of the participants from Dunlap High School, Joshua Palinkas and Megan Walters, said the April 3 YAC event in Springfield gave them unique insight into government, as well as provided professional development opportunities like public speaking and networking with students from other schools in their region.
“I wanted to come to the Youth Advisory Council because I saw it as a great way for me to not only network with politicians in my area, but gain a greater understanding of government and meet new people who have similar interests to my own,” Palinkas said. “It is important for people my age to understand the governmental process.”
When asked if he would recommend the YAC to other students, Palinkas responded, “Absolutely. Totally worth it. You learn a lot. Hands down, I would recommend it.”
Walters said the YAC expanded her perspective about the role of young people in government.
“I wanted to come to the Youth Advisory Council because in high school, we hear about these problems and we hear our parents talk about it, and our teachers talk about it, but I don’t think we ever feel like we have a voice or an opportunity to change it. So coming here and learning about the processes gives us the education to make a change … feel like we have a voice and that our opinions matter here in the State of Illinois,” Walters said.
“You see the things on the news in Springfield, or the issues in Chicago or even in D.C. seem so far away. But really, especially with social media, your state politicians are just a phone call away. They care about your opinion and they want you to be informed,” Walters added. “We are the next generation and they want us to be involved in these things.”
For more information about Sen. Weaver’s Youth Advisory Council, contact his district office at 309-693-4921.