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68th Annual Youth Assembly Convenes

November 25, 2014
Youth Assembly attendee with the gavel

The State Capitol in Atlanta has been bustling this week - legislators, elected officials, lobbyists and members of the media working hard to pass bills. But it's not the regular legislature.

It's the state YMCA's 68th annual Youth Assembly, a conference designed to show high school students firsthand how the legislative process works. This week, some 425 students from about 40 schools attended the conference.

During the conference, teens sat in the actual chambers of the House and Senate, debating and voting on bills written by students on issues ranging from education and smart highways to gun reforms and medical marijuana. Bills passed mock committees before heading to the floors of the House and Senate. Other students portrayed lobbyists, trying to get enough votes for a certain bill awaiting passage.

Teen attorneys argued cases in front of a mock Georgia Supreme Court. Members of a student media published stories every day about the session. There was even a Youth Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House and other key elected and appointed positions.

Randall Trammell, Executive Director of the State YMCA of Georgia, said he attributes the conference to an improvement in teens' knowledge of how government works, having done his doctoral research on the impact of the program. According to his research, teen legislators scored 30 points higher on civics tests than non-attendees.

"They're walking away with a greater sense of civic identity and feeling of empowerment to contact local officials and be involved. But more than that they're having fun and learning without realizing it."
— Randall Trammell, Executive Director of the State YMCA of Georgia

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, Former Governor Joe Frank Harris, State Representative Buddy Harden and State Representative Michael Caldwell are among former Youth Assembly attendees who went on to careers in politics.

Youth Governor Andrew Mitchell from Piedmont Academy in Monticello said his biggest takeaway was not so much a civics lesson as it was a realization that collaboration, not politics, was key to good government.

"If people would just reach across the aisle and work together, no matter what their political differences are, we could get a lot done," he said. "Here we have students who couldn't be more different politically, but we work toward a solution and at the end we're still friends."

About the Author

Peter Lee is Editorial Director of GeorgiaGov Interactive, a division of the Georgia Technology Authority. He holds a master’s degree in communications and is a Certified Usability Analyst.

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