State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) welcomed dozens of high school students to take a deep dive government and try their hand at the lawmaking process. The event was part of Barickman’s ongoing Youth Advisory Council (YAC) program, which is designed to engage young people in government.

“The idea is to take high school students from across the district, put them in a room, and have a civil dialogue on the issues of the day,” said Barickman. “What you realize is that even if they’re not old enough to vote, they’re well versed on the issues, they’re passionate, and they have this opportunity to communicate their views in a forum that is friendly.”

The students gathered in the morning at the Elks Lodge in Pontiac, to discuss and debate issues, and to learn from other elected officials about public service.

“I think it’s really interesting, I’ve never been to something like this,” said Normal West student Abigail Morse. “Usually, I stay away from politics because I don’t want to get in fights and arguments, but this has been a different experience, and I probably won’t scare away from politics anymore.”

“I think it’s been really good, it’s been really informative, and it’s been different than anything I’ve ever been to,” said Hoopeston High School student Emma Rayls. “I’ve been to conventions, and they’ve had speakers, but they’ve never had speakers that were politicians speaking different mindsets, and they’ve never had interactions with the audience that share different opinions.”

In the afternoon, the students took on the various jobs involved in the lawmaking process, including serving as lawmakers, concerned citizens, lobbyists, and legislative staffers, working to advance or to block a legislative bill.

“I think it was a really informative experience, I think I’m going to take away a lot from this, and I’m going to become more involved in politics from it,” Pontiac Township High School student Andrew Pelletier.

“I like that there’s a lot of different students here with different mindsets, different beliefs, different upbringings, that all have different beliefs on topics, and that wouldn’t talk normally,” said Onarga High School student Cesar Tapia. “I still can agree and talk normally, and I can still talk with them about the same things in the same way, and nobody’s going to talk down to me.”

The students convened a mock legislative committee hearing to hear testimony on the bill, debate the merits, and then ultimately vote on the legislation.

“This event gives the students a chance to discuss and debate ideas, and get immediate feedback from their peers, who may not always agree with them. It’s a positive growing environment.” said Barickman.

Barickman’s YAC program is open to high school students from the 53rd Senate District, typically consists of two meetings, one in the fall in the district, and one in the spring in the state capitol of Springfield. He encourages interested high school students to ask their teachers and administrators about taking part in the YAC program.

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