Student Congressmen Strut Their Stuff

High school students practice their civic engagement by sitting in simulated congresses that debate and approve legislation without partisan gridlock.High school students from the Pacific Northwest held a Congress last month and gave a hint of how their generation views government and the issues of the day. The 377 delegates from Oregon, Washington and Idaho approved bills legalizing adoption by homosexuals, mandatory sex education and the Dream Act, allowing children of illegal immigrants to attend U.S. colleges and universities.

In a simulated Congress sponsored by the Junior State of America, students divided up into a House and Senate. They chose Democratic and Republican whips, but also added whips for the Libertarian and Green parties.

The largest delegation to the congress held in Portland came from Lake Oswego High School, which sent 142 students. Skyline High School in Sammamish, Washington sent 37 students.

Four Lake Oswego High School students pushed through a bill to allow gays to adopt children. A pair of students from Newport High School in Oregon and Interlake High School in Washington teamed up to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

Different groups of students from Skyline High School won approval of three measures to restore congressional responsibility, prevent arbitrary rate increases on contract services and require comprehensive sex education in public schools. 

Two students from Issaquah High School in Washington championed the Dream Act.

Attendees collaborated on letters of support for the Sandra Day O'Connor Civic Learning Act, which would create competitive grants to support civic education, especially in rural and underserved areas. The act also would play a role in aggregating data on student proficiency in civics and government.

Henry Kramer, the organizing political director of The Bus Project in Portland, gave what amounted to a keynote speech, encouraging students to overcome apathy and engage in civic affairs to influence policies that affect them, their families and their futures.

The Junior State of America is non-partisan, and the largest high school student-run organization in the country. JSA began in 1934 as the Montezuma Mountain School, created by a professor in California as an experiment in self-government by students. 

There are now 10 JSA regions, including the Pacific Northwest. In addition to winter congresses, JSA offers summer programs at universities such as Stanford, Georgetown and Princeton, as well as overseas, which have attracted high-profile speakers including former President George H.W. Bush and President Barack Obama, as well as Socialist Congressman Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Republican strategist Karl Rove.