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An inside look at government: MAHS students create bills, serve as lawmakers, lobbyists

By David Barr davidbarr@pressandjournal.com
Posted 6/21/17

Zeryab Ibrahim had a bill signed into law helping foster children receive financial aid in going to college.

What makes this achievement incredible is he’s only a junior in high school. …

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An inside look at government: MAHS students create bills, serve as lawmakers, lobbyists

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Zeryab Ibrahim had a bill signed into law helping foster children receive financial aid in going to college.

What makes this achievement incredible is he’s only a junior in high school.

Ibrahim is a member of the Middletown Area High School’s Youth & Government Club. According to ymca.org, Youth and Government is “a statewide civic education and leadership development program in which YMCAs, schools, and community organizations involve students in hands-on learning experiences.” It is designed for middle and high school students to experience state government, both legislative and judicial, in action.

The idea is students learn about the inner workings of government, such as creating and signing bills, and then perform the tasks as their counterparts would in a real-life situation. This means students must be educated on the nuances of government, such as parliamentary procedure, which means they learn how to have an organized debate.

Some positions for the Middletown club’s 16 members had to be applied for, while others were assigned.

Levi Buckwalter, Eddie Evans, Alexis Fischer, Terrance Jefferson, Melanie Rentas and Tyreesa Smith were state representatives. Ibrahim, Aayushi Patel and Angie Torres were senators. Stephanie Finsterbush and Khasai Cornish were reporters. Celeste Osayi was secretary of education in the governor’s administration. Jared Knaub and Valerie Wilmath were lobbyists for teachers. Lilly Fager and Matt Frehse were lobbyists for hospitals.

Ibrahim’s action took place at the Capitol on April 20-23, when about 660 students from across the state were on hand. However, the preparatory work began at the beginning of this school year, when they began preparing for their assigned roles and creating hypothetical bills. These bills are based on changes students would like to see become a real law if possible.

That has happened before. More than 10 years ago, a student from another school district suggested that it be mandatory for headlights to be used in conjunction with windshield wipers. That idea was picked up and became a law that went into effect in January 2007.

Ibrahim’s idea was to ensure the government could provide college funds to foster children who age out of foster care. Ibrahim selected the idea of helping foster children because he knew children in foster care when he was younger.

“Children should have all the opportunities as others. It’s a good way to level the playing field,” Ibrahim said.

According to Ibrahim, the children who age out of foster care are told to conquer the world with only a handshake and a goodbye. Of all the foster care children, less than 11 percent go on to college, and fewer graduate.

“You don’t have to be old and in a suit to make a difference,” Ibrahim said.

He wasn’t the only Middletown student to have a bill become law.

Torres created a bill that would redefine the definition of abuse by adding psychological abuse to the current definition. Fischer, who co-sponsored the bill, said Torres wanted to do something involving women’s rights and called the final product a simple solution to a major problem.

Once the students arrived in Harrisburg, they were split into their assigned roles. The main focus of the event centered on the more than 450 bills that were fighting to become law. The bills had two days to became laws.

Only a third of all bills make it out of committee. Once it leaves committee, it must then go to the House and the Senate before moving on to the governor’s desk. At the end of the weekend, 14 bills were agreed upon and signed into law, with two of the final 14 being Ibrahim’s and Torres’.

While having two bills make it all the way to law was a proud moment for the Middletown group, there was another honor bestowed upon them at the end of the festivities: the David S. John Jr. Delegation of the Year award.

This is an award given to the delegation that best demonstrates the mission of the Youth & Government program, which is servant leadership. Middletown received the honor after completing more than 700 hours of community service with 16 members during the school year, which included farm work in Mechanicsburg, and spending time at places such as Frey Village and Paxton Street Home.

In a way, this award returned home, as the award is named for David S. John, a Middletown Area School District school board member. Middletown won the award the first year it was presented in 2013 and they are the first school to repeat as award winners.

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