Student story: YMCA introduces new mock government

Numerous students at Belleville West always question the value of civics classes. While not every single student finds the subject intriguing, several students are trying to learn more about Illinois’ form of government through the Illinois YMCA Youth and Government organization.

Since 1949, the Illinois YMCA Youth and Government has been using firsthand experiences to help students get more comfortable with participating in and understanding Illinois form of government.

The participants of the YMCA organization will be learning how to train in judicial processes and draft legislation, and it will help them develop public speaking skills, along with several other key components of learning how to be a YMCA delegate.

YMCA Youth and Government will do this by having a seven-month hands-on experience through a model legislative and judicial process. This way, students will actually be a part of the process of making a new law.

“The most recent example would be allowing 17-year-olds who will be 18 by election day to participate in the primary election,” civics teacher Cari Peterson said.

Students do not only have to be a part of the model legislation, they can also be able to conduct interviews, write news articles, be news reporters, produce newscasts and will be able to argue cases in the Supreme Court building. This way, students can receive a full grasp of what happens in the lawmaking process as well as seeing the outside influences that occur in political interventions.

“I have already learned so much about how to write a bill and what bills have been passed,” junior Tori Cheffer said.

While the YMCAYouth and Government organizations do try to teach youth about government, they also try to help students solve community problems by debating for a better solution. In this way, students can enhance their critical thinking skills through seeing other delegates’ points of views and even contributing their own.

“Students develop public speaking skills, academic writing and networking skills,” Peterson said.

Students involved in the YMCA Youth and Government organization will go to two regional pre-legislative training courses in order to understand their roles better. This takes place during late fall and continues to spring.

During March, students will attend a three-day assembly in Springfield along with students from various other schools. They will attend this assembly to complete the role they were given.

“This organization has great people and great advisers that I look forward to working with in the future,” Cheffer said.

As many as 900 students are expected to attend the assembly in Springfield and will meet at the actual Capital building. In addition, several court cases will be heard in the Supreme Court building in March.

“The elected Illinois Youth and Government governor’s headquarters is in the Illinois Governor’s office; he or she uses [the Governor’s] desk,” Peterson said.

Numerous students are excited to be joining the Illinois YMCA Youth and Government organization. Any student can join the Illinois YMCA Youth and Government, but only upperclassman can be legislators and attorneys. This still leaves a wide variety of participation to any freshmen or sophomores that would like to join.

“Interested students can e-mail me for more information at,” Peterson said.