MHS Senior One of 55 NYS Students With LWV “Inside Albany” 2013

Mamaroneck High School senior Bob Phillips was among the 55 students from across New York State participating in the League of Women Voters’ 2013 Students Inside Albany program on April 14-17. The LWV-NY provided the following synopsis:

This year we had 55 students from 37 local Leagues attend Students Inside Albany. The students came from all over New York State from Long Island to Buffalo and Plattsburgh to Binghamton. They ranged from sophomores to seniors in high school. They were energetic and enthusiastic to learn about New York State government.

On Sunday evening, Lisa Kissinger, Social Studies Supervisor in Shenendehowa Central Schools, and her brother, Mark Kissinger, NYS Department of Health Long Term Care Division Director, presented information on the roles of the various branches of New York State government and the differences between the state government and the other levels of government, eg, national and local.

On Monday, the students had a tour of the state Capitol and heard about whose faces are on those engraved stones and the secret of the fireplaces in the Senate Chambers. League Legislative Director, Barbara Bartoletti, then provided them with the do’s and don’ts of lobbying the legislators – how to approach them, make your arguments and be persuasive. Assemblymembers Pat Fahy and James Tedisco then joined the group to allow all students to role play. Students were able to approach the legislators and lobby them on an issue of the student’s choice. The legislators were wonderful to engage with the students in this activity.

In the afternoon, the students were sent off to find their Assemblymember’s offices and shadow their legislator. All of the students were escorted onto the Assembly and introduced before the Chambers. They viewed the legislators at their desks and the Chamber in session, although the calendar for the day wasn’t very full. The Assembly adjourned early but Assemblymember Peter Lopez graciously agreed to meet with the students to answer questions and discuss the procedures of the Chambers. The Assemblymember also allowed the students to do a short mock session in the Chambers. Yaela Collins (Brookhaven) was selected to preside over the Chambers and Yelimi Chung (Oneonta) introduced a bill to decriminalize marijuana. Various students, when addressed by “Speaker” Collins asked questions or provided commentary about the proposed bill. All students agreed that the process was more difficult than they expected.

After dinner, Casey Seiler, Capital Bureau Chief for the Times Union, and Karen DeWitt, Capital Bureau Chief for NY Public Radio, discussed the role of the media in covering and influencing public policy decisions. They agreed that with social media, the different segments of the media, eg, radio versus print, are not all that different anymore. They also discussed the speed of media coverage now with social media but the constant need to confirm sources and information.

On Tuesday, the students learned about FOIA and how to access information in their communities and throughout the government from Robert Freeman, Executive Director of the Commission on Open Government. Robyn Ringler, Capital District Leader of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, also talk with the students about the role of an individual in making change happen; she used her experience in the issue of gun control to emphasize the influence of letters to the editors, to legislators and in community forums.

On the way back to the Capitol, the students had a tour of the Chambers of the Court of Appeals and heard about the different levels of the judiciary in New York State from Gary Spencer, Information Officer at the Court of Appeals. The students shadowed their Senator on Tuesday and again were escorted to the floor and introduced in the Chambers. Again, the calendar wasn’t very active although they watched passage of a number of resolutions. The Senators interacted with the students, though, teaching the students about the procedures in the Senate Chambers.

Assemblymember Tony Jordan spoke to the students on Tuesday evening about the process of running for office. He has recently decided to run for County District Attorney and was able to discuss both his past experience with campaigns for the Assembly and his plans for this new campaign to begin later this spring.

As usual, on Wednesday morning, Barbara Bartoletti engaged the students in a discussion of what they saw in the Assembly and Senate. Much of the discussion surrounded the unusual leadership configuration this year in the Senate with the Republicans and the Independent Democratic Caucus members sharing power as the Majority Coalition Leaders. The students were also presented individually with a certificate for attendance at the Conference.

Quotes from some of the students included:
 It was a great eye opening experience. I learned way more than I ever did in class. It makes me want to do something and continue learning.
 I definitely want to become more involved in my state government because I now understand how it directly affects my family’s life.
 It broadened my interests and changed my views about parties. Now I feel more passionate towards it.
 It was a wonderful experience! I got to meet amazing people my age, and speak to inspiring people who were amiable and informative.
 The speakers showed us how much of a difference one individual can make. The students also socialized in the evenings generating informal discussions on political issues. One evening the group went bowling thanks to Del Lanes, a local bowling facility.

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