While most Delaware Hayes High School students spent their spring breaks at home relaxing, two students spent their breaks taking part in an online version of the Ohio YMCA Youth & Government conference.
Hayes seniors Sydney Dunmire and Mackenzie Collett, two leaders of the student organization, spent the week in a leadership conference before taking part in discussions of student-authored bills in virtual meetings featuring students representing the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate.
Dunmire served as the youth governor of Ohio for the event and had the final say over every bill discussed during the event, while Collett served as the youth secretary of treasury and lobbied for certain bills as a member of Dunmire’s cabinet.
The event was originally scheduled to be held at the Ohio Statehouse this week, but the COVID-19 outbreak forced the event to be held online using the video conference software ZOOM.
Dunmire said this was her final year taking part in the program, and she was glad it continued in an online fashion.
“Doing Ohio Youth & Government online is unprecedented,” Dunmire said. “As the youth governor of Ohio, hearing that we wont be at the Ohio Statehouse for my last year was disappointing, but I am going to follow through with my duties no matter what happens.”
Collett said taking part in the event this year as the youth secretary of treasury was different than other years when she participated because she didn’t write bills. Instead, she spent the time preparing to lead during the conference and lobby for bills.
“So leading up to this, I attended Youth Advocacy Day in the fall in which I met with Ohio’s representatives and senators, such as Jim Jordan, to speak about increasing the state’s support for the YMCA,” Collett said. “I attended Middle School Youth & Government where I guided middle schoolers throughout their conference; and I attended Winter Rally in which all students across the state who hold a leadership position attended a retreat in which we worked on team building and leadership schools.”
Dunmire said in preparation for the conference, she read through 150 bills authored by student representatives.
“In doing so, I gave my opinion of the bill and said whether or not I was for or against it,” she said. “I also assigned my governor’s cabinet to go and speak in my viewpoint on the bills I felt strongly about. Mackenzie Collett is a part of my Governor’s Cabinet, and I sent her to lobby on various bills with a range of topics during the online conference.”
Dunmire said just like in real state government, once the bills had passed both committee and the house or senate, the governor, Dunmire, looked over the bills once more and either signed or veto them.
Collett said that house committees were held Wednesday and senate committees were held Thursday. Both groups were brought together Friday.
Dunmire said the experience was “significantly different” this year.
“For me, personally, I was looking forward to the opening ceremony, where I would stand in front of my peers and give a speech in the house chambers,” Dunmire said. “While the debate is still as vibrant as ever, sitting at my own desk in my bedroom is a lot different than sitting in the desk of someone in the general assembly.”
Dunmire added the move to an online version of the event meant many participants were missing and could not present or defend their bills, but students remained committed to their goals.
“When the communication between students lacks at times, we more than make up for it in debate,” Dunmire said. “When bill authors do not arrive to give a speech on their bill, we go through and debate it as we normally would, but we are unable to ask questions. Despite the circumstances, the delegates in attendance are dedicated to making our state a better place to live, even if the bills we present are only mock legislation.”
Collett said she was disappointed the event wasn’t held in-person, but she was happy to participate.
“While it was devastating to not be able to attend an in-person conference, I am incredibly grateful to still have been able to participate in some form of the conference as it allowed those who worked hard on their bills to ensure that their hard work was still able to pay off and those of us who serve in leadership positions to still be able to fulfill our duties,” Collett said.
She added another change was that since students were communicating from their homes, the debates went on for much longer than they would have in person.
“We were on Zoom calls from 9 a.m. all the way until 11:30 p.m. some days, so I definitely had to remind myself to take breaks and remember to stretch my legs,” Collett said.
Despite all the changes, Collett was honored to have taken part in the event.
“Yet, even with the long calls, the passion the Youth & Government participants have for this program and the bills they create ensured there was never a dull moment and every second was worthwhile,” Collett said. “I was truly honored to still be able to fulfill my duties as state secretary of treasury, and I hope that the next person to fulfill this position appreciates it as much as I have.”
Dunmire, who added she also enjoyed the conference, said the move to Zoom actually allowed her to take part more often in discussions.
“I have enjoyed seeing the smiling faces of all the delegates throughout the week,” she said. “If we were at the statehouse, I would not have had the opportunity to listen in on debate, and being that I am in my own bedroom, I am able. I have enjoyed being their youth governor, even if I am not able to be at the statehouse. It is humbling to know that the students of Youth & Government put their faith in me, and I hope I was able to deliver a lively conference amid this time of confusion.”
Collett said the online conference made the elections and campaigning more interesting since it is usually done in person.
“At conference, campaigning is taken very seriously,” she said. “Candidates have budgets they must follow when purchasing campaign materials such as business cards and buttons; they court participants who used to hold positions for endorsements; they give speeches, and so on. However, seeing that very few of those strategies can be executed via Zoom, the process of campaigning has changed. Participants have been sending out mass emails about there campaigns, creating social media accounts for their campaigns, and some have even been using the breaks we have on our Zoom calls to ask for votes.
“It has been encouraging to see people campaigning as it reminds me that the program is still strong, and it will just make the conference have even more energy next year,” Collett added.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.