HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Your state Capitol has been overrun by high school students!
They are lawmakers.
They are lobbyists.
They are judges.
They are the media.
And cynics are joking they are an improvement.
Six hundred students from across the commonwealth filled every nook, cranny and nearly every office in the Capitol.
There was even a governor, more baby-faced than bearded, who held a press conference in the Rotunda Friday. He eloquently discussed the controversial topic of fracking.
“Hydraulic fracturing has sustained the growth of thousands of jobs across the commonwealth,” the “governor” said, “but when done improperly could be unsafe.”
The youth movement is part of the Pennsylvania YMCA’s Youth and Government Model Convention. They’re professionally dressed kids who not only looked mature, but at times sounded more mature than the people they’re impersonating. The governor is Wesley Sheker, a senior at Harrisburg Academy.
“We discuss ideas,” Sheker said passionately while explaining the purpose of the convention. “We don’t argue. We don’t yell at each other. We don’t just spout rhetoric. We discuss ideas and we have a lot of fun doing it.”
Central Dauphin High School senior Paige Neyman is a press manager who oversaw the press conference. In real life, she doesn’t want to be a news reporter. She wants to write and produce network shows. But Paige calls this weekend very valuable.
“I’m completely surrounded by people who are so intelligent and so aware of everything that’s going on in the world,” Neyman said, “and it’s a positive place to be.”
Positive vibes at the Capitol?
The Y’s Model Convention began Thursday and runs through Saturday. It’s in its 69th year. It began in the mid-1940s. State Representative Brian Ellis (R-Butler) participated in the mid-1980s and proudly watched as his two sons are participating this year.
“I’m amazed every year at how good they are doing what we do, not do so well at times,” Ellis laughed.
Students filled the seats in the House and Senate chambers. Debate on the House floor was to last 12 hours and Middletown sophomore/rep Lilly Fager was right in the middle of it.
“I’m learning a lot,” Lilly said. “I’m learning how to work with other people. I’m learning how to speak up for what I think is right and I’m learning how to present my own opinions.”
Organizers hope that the lessons learned at the convention will last well beyond this weekend – and travel far beyond Harrisburg.
“We want them to go back into their communities and take what they’ve learned here and continue to lead whatever their jobs happen to be down the road,” said Greg Rudder, executive director of the Pennsylvania YMCA. “They could be teachers. They could be politicians. They could be involved in the news media. They could be moms and dads. But they’re gonna be leading the right way. That’s servant leadership.”
And THAT is too rarely found in the Capitol.