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Hastings students simulate state government

About 120 local students will participate at the Model Assembly conference Jan. 5-8. (Submitted photo by Minnesota YMCA Youth in Government)

About 120 local students will go to Minneapolis and St. Paul Jan. 5-8 to serve as legislators, judges, attorneys, lobbyists, cabinet members and media representatives for the Model Assembly conference. The Model Assembly is a simulation of Minnesota state government in which approximately 1,600 students in grades 8-12 throughout the state take part. Model Assembly is a program offered by the YMCA Youth in Government.

Levi O'Toole, a senior at Hastings High School, is the State Steering Committee Chair for the program. He said he thinks his generation has a reputation of being lazy, apathetic and unmotivated, but YIG gives them a chance to prove that wrong.

"When you got 1,600 students from across the state who gather and write their own bills and talk passionately about state issues that affect us, I think that kind of proves that wrong," O'Toole said.

He joined the program when he was in eighth grade and said the program has helped him develop his own opinions and set of beliefs. O'Toole said his dream job isn't necessarily in government but he isn't ruling it out.

"I definitely think that if that's what I feel called to do then I definitely will, and I'll feel comfortable knowing I have a basis of knowledge," O'Toole said.

Hayden Schutt, a junior at HHS, will be the Chief Judge of the District Court at the Model Assembly. Like O'Toole, Schutt has also been in the program since he was in eighth grade and for him, YIG is where he feels at home.

"The people are so nice and caring and all opinions and values are respected there, so that's my go-to place," Schutt said.

There are no political parties in YIG and the Model Assembly, so Schutt said students can go into their own moral beliefs and still communicate and be friends with people who have different views.

In addition to Schutt's work in the courts at the conference, he will be campaigning for governor. Students elect their own officers at the conference. Schutt said he will be campaigning, asking people for support and participating in a debate. He even has campaign buttons and stickers.

Through the experiences they receive at the Model Assembly, O'Toole said the first step in creating a change is gaining a knowledge and understanding of how government works.

"Just knowing how it works has provided a platform for us to get involved," O'Toole said.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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