Over a dozen local students had the opportunity to put their passions and concerns front and center by proposing ideas for new laws directly to State Sen. John Curran (R-Downers Grove). The students came from four local high schools to take part in the Senator’s annual Youth Advisory Council program earlier this week.
“This program is a chance for students to not only learn more about government, but to see that their voices are heard in Springfield,” said Curran. “I hope these students leave with an interest not only in government but in becoming leaders in their communities.”
The students met at the Lemont Public Library, where they heard from several individuals about different roles in government, including Lemont Mayor John Egofske, David Olsen, State Affairs Director for the Alzheimer’s Association, Illinois Chapter, and Naperville Deputy City Manager Marcie Schatz.
During the afternoon, the students were divided into small groups where they discussed ideas for new legislation, eventually presenting their plans to the whole group. The students then debated, discussed, and eventually voted on the proposals. The ideas ranged from subsidizing the cost of insulin for low income families, to creating a tax on the inhumane treatment of animals. Eventually the students voted to advance a plan to legalize fireworks and to use the tax revenue toward paying down state debt and funding youth mentoring programs.
“My biggest takeaway is the importance of cooperation, many people think government policy-making is partisan, but to get anything done, you have to work a lot with others, you need to get everyone talking to get anything done,” said Lemont High School student Ben Clarage. “If high school students don’t participate in their government, the people leading our country won’t know what to do, high school students are the future and our opinions matter.”
“These are issues that directly affect your life, they impact your daily life, and if you’re not getting involved, it’s basically just putting your life in other people’s hands, so there’s no reason not to get involved. You want to change your life, change other people’s lives for the better,” said Downers Grove North High School student Julia Szostak.
“I think sometimes as high school students we feel like we’re too young, we’re not at that stage of life where we can make a difference. That’s actually not true, we can start making a difference now if we just take the time to understand how these jobs work and what we can do to have a difference on the state,” said Chesterton Academy of the Holy Family student Kate Beecher.
“It’s really interesting to just be able to learn so much from the people around me, I don’t normally see so many teenagers in one place who are so invested in politics,” said Lyons Township High School student Flynn Rachford. “Politics kind of defines our whole life, and I think the less people know about it, the more danger there is for somebody to get away with something that you don’t want in your personal life, that you don’t want dictated for you, or to potentially infringe on a right that you think you should have.”
The students will meet again in during the spring semester to conduct a mock committee hearing on their proposal, where students will take on the roles of lawmakers, lobbyists, and concerned citizens. Each student will also have the opportunity to shadow Senator Curran during the legislative session at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.
“This is our next generation, and we’re hoping to give them the tools and experience in public policy to help jump start their futures in government or even as active, engaged citizens,” said Senator Curran. “We have a lot of bright young minds in that room, and they really are going to be critical to our future success.”