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Students pass bill in model assembly

Monday, April 7, 2014

Four Bassett High School students worked as legislators for three days introducing, debating and passing into law bills introduced by their peers.

They were part of the YMCA Model General Assembly program, which convened students from throughout Virginia to participate in the student-led mock congress held on the floor of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates in the Capitol building.

Bassett High School students Jeanette Amaya, Candi Lopez, Rosario Quezada and Karla Portugal served as representatives in the assembly and introduced two bills.

The team’s work began in November with exploring, researching and documenting issues of importance to Virginians. Based on their research and interest, the team drafted two bills according to the Code of Virginia and the Constitution for consideration during the MGA.

One bill was in support of wind energy use in Virginia and the other was an immigration and education bill allowing undocumented students who graduate from Virginia high schools in good standing to qualify for in-state tuition at post-secondary institutions.

The purpose of the program, according to The Virginia YMCA, is to introduce high school students to the legislative process in Virginia. The YMCA and MHC After 3 partnered to engage a group of students in Model General Assembly through a Community Impact Grant from the United Way of Martinsville and Henry County.

“I feel honored that my YMCA was represented by such an incredible group,” said YMCA Assistant Director Becky Forestier. “The Model General Assembly experience serves as an amazing tool to teach students about our state legislature and to build student interest in public service.”

Amaya agreed.

“This opportunity allowed me to understand politics better. Even though my wind energy bill didn’t pass, the process was a fun experience. I am proud the immigration bill was a success and it was made into a ‘law.’ The news was a great finale for a great year,” she said.

Legislation that passes in both houses is signed into law by the youth governor.

In addition to introducing bills, serving on committees and debating legislation, participants also participate as senators, delegates, officers, lobbyists, reporters or underclassmen.

Lopez spoke about her passion for the in-state tuition bill.

“I both grew and learned from this experience, making me a bolder individual with regards (to) taking action for what I believe is important to me. This was important to me because hard work has been put into my academic career leading up to this point, and I am able to finally stand up for a cause that does not only affect me but also others as well,” she said.

Model General Assembly mentor and Bassett High School guidance counselor Shekila Yralux said, “The girls had a wonderful time this past weekend at the Model General Assembly. The girls’ first bill regarding wind turbines was not passed but the in-state tuition bill for undocumented students was passed into law by the youth governor. For the past five years students have come to the MGA trying to pass an in-state tuition bill and have been unsuccessful until now. I am so proud of these girls.”

Quezada also talked about having a locally introduced bill succeed.

“I had an outstanding experience and I gained so much knowledge on what the real political world consists of. I enjoyed working and debating for our bill. Most importantly, having one of our bills passed brought me a sense of pride and joy. I extremely urge all high school students experience this,”she said.

Portugal added, “I would like to thank the Martinsville YMCA and MHC After 3 for giving my colleagues and I the experience to participate in the YMCA MGA. With no doubt, I leave with a broader knowledge regarding American politics and the experience of debating. The Maastricht Global Education Declaration (2002) states that, ‘Global education is education that opens people’s eyes and minds to the realities of the globalized world and awakens them to bring about a world of greater justice, equity and human rights for all.’”

Students in grades 9-12 may attend the Model General Assembly program and introduce at least one but no more than five bills for consideration. The Virginia YMCA also holds regional bill writing workshops for participants to have a greater understanding of the Code of Virginia and the Constitution.

“We value our strong partnership with the YMCA and believe programs such as Model General Assembly offer the integrated learning experiences that essential to student success in and out of school. We look forward to continuing this partnership and growing Model General Assembly participation in our community,” said Shanna Francisco-King, PHCC’s director of MHC After 3, Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math and Science.


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