A world of change often starts right within Fridley Public Schools’ buildings, most often through the voices of the students. A group of 76 district students have found their voices in the very effective Youth In Government program.
The Hilton Minneapolis played host to the 53 high school and 23 middle school students from Jan. 5 through 8, for the Youth In Government Model Assembly. YIG is a youth development program through the YMCA, emphasizing the four core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. It allows students to take part in the fundamentals of government via two formats: Model Assembly, which covers state government, and Model United Nations, a world government approach.
The January event was a Model Assembly of all branches of state government, including media. Juniors and seniors worked on the actual floor of the State Capitol in Saint Paul. There are lobbyists, a cabinet for the governor, courts and the legislative branches. Students in court write a brief, those in media write articles and those in legislative write a bill. Committees move bills on to House and Senate. Leadership roles are voted on by participants. Elected officials then train throughout the year with YMCA leaders and choose their teams from applications.
Steve Holt, one of the advisors of Youth In Government at Fridley High School, emphasized the educational component for participants. “They get a great civics education about state government, how to be involved and how to make change. And because it’s student run, they learn a lot about leadership, self-confidence and public speaking.”
Fridley’s YIG group is unique, in that the district sends the students, whereas other participants are sent by the YMCA directly.
“Many kids go, especially the 7th and 8th graders, to get away from their family,” Holt said. “Have fun, stay at a Hilton. That’s what they’re thinking. But they learn a ton about how government operates.”
Asked if the recent presidential election has had an effect on the experience, Holt confirmed much of the debate was about the presidential election. “The governor’s speech kicked off the event and spoke of how it’s more important than ever to be dedicated to being involved and to make change through government.”
“YIG isn’t political parties; it’s student ideas,” Holt said. “It’s not a polarizing experience; the goal is engaged debate.”
High school junior Nic Fite was named MVP for YIG Media at the conference. In addition, Holt, Jeren Anderson and Kirk Myhra, co-YIG advisors, were given the 2015 Robert “Skip” Wilke Award, which recognizes advisors for the service to the program. The three were chosen by fellow advisors who are past recipients of the award.
A considerable amount of funding for the Fridley Public Schools participants comes from the Fridley Lions. Northwest Suburban Integration School District is also a sponsor. The Ann Bancroft Foundation contributed grants of $410 each to 14 students, covering their attendance at the conference.