MIAMI COUNTY — It may come as a surprise to many adults, but teenagers are becoming more politically engaged and interested in what happens in U.S. government, as evidenced by organizations like Buckeye Boys State and Buckeye Girls State, as well as programs like YMCA Youth in Government, which has a local group.
Overseen by Abigail Ngoza-Jordan, teen leadership director for the Miami County YMCA, Youth in Government is a civic engagement and leadership development program that allows students in grades 7-12 to serve in model governments at the local, state, national, and international levels.
“In Youth in Government, students participate directly in a simulation of the democratic process,” Ngoza-Jordan said. “They learn about a wide variety of issues to develop critical thinking skills and articulate their position while engaging constructively with those holding like and opposing views.”
The first program was established in 1936 in New York, and Ohio’s YMCA Youth in Government program began in 1952.
The organization’s mission, according to the American Bar Association — a supporter of YMCA Youth in Government — is to “help create the next generation of thoughtful, committed and active citizens” by teaching them the “principles of a democratic society.” They also aim to create leaders through their roles in the models of local, state and national government.
The group even writes bills that they submit to the House of Representatives. “Miami County YMCA has nine active students, and five of the students wrote bills on issues they are passionate about,” Ngoza-Jordan said. “Their bills passed, which is a high honor to have. The students work very hard.”
Miami County YMCA Youth in Government had several measures passed this year, including bills:
• Requiring all Ohio high schools to offer driver’s education classes, authored by Mya Davis
• Allowing all minors or the parents of a minor to petition for emancipation, authored by Darby Bubp
• Reforming sexual education, authored by Emily Christian and Lilly Wackler
• Requiring all persons aged 70 years and older who wish to keep their driver’s license to retake the standard license test every five years, authored by Emily Stacey
Members also can be elected to various offices like Speaker of the House, the seat that Piqua High School senior Darby Bubp recently won at the state level.
“I decided to run for Speaker and just like a real one, it means I would be leading floor sessions,” Bupb said. “To run for office, I had to write a speech and deliver it in front of the entire (state) conference and they voted.”
“Students yearly attend the State Assembly Conference at Ohio State House in Columbus, where they prepare their roles as legislators, bill writers, justices, lobbyists, officers and pages,” Ngoza-Jordan explained. “The students will be competing with other students from other YMCAs in Ohio. Students occupy the House, Senate, and Supreme Court chambers.”
Bupb, who attended the Conference on National Affairs (CONA) this summer in North Carolina, said her interest in government started in seventh grade and has grown since then.
“I’ve been interested since I was a little kid, when I knew that I didn’t necessarily like math and science, and schools tend to be so STEM-oriented,” she said. “So I started to look for opportunities, to look at fields that interested me and I happened to find Youth in Government.
“I think it’s really nice that a program like this exists. It’s a great opportunity, and I’d like to get the word out and see other people get involved.”
Bubp said Youth in Government has helped her develop public speaking skills, become more outgoing and meet new people. “It teaches you so much about government and the world around you,” she added. “It’s a real eye-opener.”
Ngoza-Jordan emphasized the significance of programs like Youth in Government and the impact they have on young people. The students meet monthly in the Youth Center located at the YMCA’s Piqua Branch. Though the current crop of members hail from either Piqua or Miami East high schools, students from other areas in the county are welcome to join.
Ngoza-Jordan said through involvement in such YMCA groups as Leaders Club and Youth in Government, teens can inspire their peers and teach them the importance of being involved in government because after all, she said, “They are the leaders of tomorrow.”
Reach Belinda M. Paschal at (937) 451-3341