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YMCA’s Student Youth and Government (YAG)

By Francis Fokoue

From March 24 to March 26, a group of students from White Plains High School seized the unique opportunity to take part in the Youth and Government (YAG) conference in Albany, free of cost. They enjoyed the pleasure of meeting plenty of new people, rooming with their friends, exploring the state capital, and learning from real-life governors and lawyers.

The Youth and Government program meets on Tuesdays each week at the YMCA of North and Central Westchester located in White Plains, New York. Students take the path of judicial, legislative, or press, and they are not restricted to staying in the same one throughout every year.

Students in the judicial program argue a made-up court case. The students arguing cases are called attorneys, and they usually work together in partnerships arguing one side of a case together, either in favor of the defendant or against them. There are three cases, A through C. A is the simplest and is given to students in their first year of YAG, and C is the most complex case. While attorneys lay out their case, older students with the role of Justice ask them questions to test their understanding. They may also question points the attorneys have made. These justices are responsible for deciding the outcome of the case.

In early January, a district conference featuring all nearby YAG programs in our district (District 4) takes place. On the judicial side of the district conference, partnerships from the White Plains YAG program go against partnerships from other nearby YMCA YAG programs. They work on arguing their cases in front of justices in preparation for the larger Youth and Government conference in Albany.

The other area of YAG is the legislative portion. Students work in groups to craft a bill that addresses any social or political issue. Those who present their bill are called bill sponsors. In the January conference, sponsors present their bills and receive feedback in preparation for the state conference. When the state conference rolls around, bill sponsors present their bills in a room full of delegates (other students presenting their bills), called a chamber, and they explain why theirs should be passed. The presentation consists of an opening statement where they speak about the purpose of their bill. After the opening, other students ask questions about the bill. Following the presentation, delegates in the chamber debate amongst themselves the pros and cons of the bill at hand. This is called the pro-con debate. At the conclusion of this debate, the current bill sponsors are allowed a closing statement where they address some points made in the pro-con debate and cement why their bill should be passed.

Another area of YAG that can be joined is the press. They help run social media pages and document the conferences using photos, videos, and written pieces.

The YAG state conference takes place yearly at the end of March at the Desmond Hotel in Albany. Students from districts all around New York spend three days and two nights together. There, members of the judicial program argue their cases, those of the legislative program present their bills, and the press branch catches every moment of the action. The judicial students who perform strongly when arguing their cases are selected to go further and compete at the national level, the National Judicial Conference (NJC), during the summer. The highest performers in the legislative are also chosen to compete at the national level and attend the Conference of National Affairs (CONA) during the summer. Ultimately, YAG is an exciting program that enables students to meet new people, expand their public speaking skills, and learn a little more about government.

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