Students Practice Government In Action

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By: 
Perry Hibner, Community Relations Specialist for the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District

The U.S. Congress could learn a thing or two from MHS students.

MHS students passed 10 of 15 bills that they voted upon during two legislative sessions held in December. The bills were part of the new semester-long U.S. Government and Politics class.  

The course was developed by a team of social studies teachers as part of the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District curriculum renewal process and has been three years in the making.  

“I was very pleased with the job the students did,’’ said David Piovanetti, one of the class instructors. “They took their roles as lawmakers seriously and acted professionally.’’

For three months, students studied the legislative process, researched issues and drafted their own bills. On Nov. 15, more than 300 students participated in the inaugural Hearing Day. The session simulated the U.S. legislative committee hearing process, Piovanetti said.

Students presented and debated their bills before one of 14 different committees. The session took nearly five hours and bills that made it out of committee were debated again and voted upon at the full legislative sessions on Dec. 13 and 17.

Students dressed in formal business attire as they assumed the roles of U.S. lawmakers debating a wide range of current issues - -from gay marriage, to euthanasia, to the death penalty.    

What was the response from students?

“The students impressed each other,’’ Piovanetti said. “They thought their classmates gave impressive speeches and they enjoyed the overall process of debating and voting on the bills that they wrote.’’

Another instructor, Kate Arnold, was really impressed with Joey Duff, who was the Speaker of the House; Matt Weber, the majority floor leader; and Jack Verstegen, the minority floor leaders.

“They did a phenomenal job of maintaining order and dealing with unexpected circumstances in a professional and sincere way,’’ she said. “The students took their roles very seriously, and in turn were accorded the respect of their classmates.’’

Arnold said other schools that have done similar programs have limited the course to seniors. 

“It was incredible to see 300 students, mostly 15 or 16 years old, run the session from start to finish with almost no involvement from adults,’’ she said. “I was very impressed by the maturity and poise of the students.  No one made jokes or inappropriate comments. They took their responsibility very seriously and used their speaking time to express their views and attempt to convince others.’’

Arnold said one highlight for her was the student who arrived very early in the semester because she wanted to write a bill legalizing same sex marriage.  She arrived at 6:45 a.m. and was the first one in line, Arnold said. The student also assembled a group in her class to work on the bill with her.

“She wrote an incredibly powerful bill sponsor speech, and more than half of the students identified her speech as one of the highlights of the full session,’’ Arnold said. “It feels great to have provided students with the opportunity to voice their opinions on issues that matter deeply to them.’’

It seemed everyone agreed another highlight of the December sessions was the vote to legalize marijuana. Students considered economic issues, health, safety, crime, freedoms, individual liberty and other angles with respect to this issue, Arnold said. 

Piovanetti said there were some very good debates on the legalization question, and the final vote ended in a tie, which means the bill did not pass.

“Everyone’s breath was held until the final vote was cast,’’ he said. 

The other instructors are Ann Morstad, Kristin Brown and Ana Atach. The team of government teachers also includes Brandon Amato, a student-teacher from UW-Madison.

 A list of the bills debated and voted upon in December, along with the results, are below:

HB 91: Abolish the Death Penalty (PASSED)

HB 03: Minimum Wage Increase (PASSED)

HB 21: Emission Impossible-Reduce Greenhouse Gases (PASSED) 

HB 45: Reforming Health Care (FAILED)

OB 01: Gay Marriage and Gay Adoption (PASSED)

HB 14: Tax the Rich (PASSED)            

HB 83: Repeal the Patriot Act (PASSED)

HB 36: Teacher Salary Not Based on Test Scores (PASSED)

HB 02: Legalization of all Marijuana (FAILED)

HB 95: Dream Act (PASSED)

HB 103: Abolish Electoral College (FAILED)

HB 55: Make Abortion Illegal (FAILED)

AB 33: No Penalty for Minors Attending a Party with Underage Drinking (PASSED)

HB 85: Rehabilitation for Drug Offenders Before Jail  (PASSED)

HB 106: Increase Oil Drilling in the U.S. (FAILED)

 

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