Central Valley seniors get a statehouse deep dive

Hosted by Civic Nebraska, Capitol Experience Day is a hands-on way for students to get a deep dive into state government in the place where our laws are debated and made.

Should voting be compulsory in Nebraska? What is the role of each of our state’s branches of government? How does a bill become a law? And if the Nebraska Legislature is a one-house body, who plays the role of the “Second House?”
These were just some of the questions Central Valley High School seniors debated on March 19 at the State Capitol as part of their annual Capitol Experience Day. An intensive daylong program tailored for their class, Capitol Experience Day immersed them in the workings of the Capitol and our state’s unique form of government.
Hosted by Civic Nebraska, the program provides a hands-on way for students to get a deep dive into state government in the place where our laws are debated and made. Cougar seniors also interacted with state officials and learned the ins and outs of Nebraska government. And they honed their advocacy, critical thinking, and civil discourse skills by role-playing as senators and citizens at a mock committee hearing.
“This is a great opportunity to see democracy in action, experience the everyday workings of state government, and learn how to participate in our democratic process,” said Kimbrie Vlach, who teaches U.S. government and social studies at Central Valley. “As a teacher, I believe it’s effective because students get to witness it, and then take what they’ve seen and practice it.”
After a short tour, the seniors got a speed history of the statehouse, then looked on as senators engaged in debate on the floor of the Legislature. Inspired by the senators’ interactions, they convened in a Capitol conference room and conducted a mock committee hearing on fictitious “LB2024” – a measure to make voting mandatory in Nebraska.
During the mock hearing, participants role-played as state senators and members of the public – a/k/a, the Second House. The class deliberated the ramifications from different viewpoints and even considered an amendment to the mock bill. Eventually, the students who role-played as senators voted 6-1 to table LB2024.
“(The mock hearing is) a part of the day that is really important, because students have to think critically about a measure, practice civil discourse during the mock hearing, and then arrive at a decision,” Vlach said. “Whether that’s (at the Capitol), in the classroom, or around the kitchen table, it’s how we as citizens productively shape our communities and our state.”
Senior Kendra Cargill said the experience gave her the confidence to testify in the future about real-life issues and legislation she might care about.
“I was assigned in advance to play the role of an opponent, and as I did my research I realized that it wasn’t the best idea,” Cargill said. “I can see myself testifying in the future if the opportunity comes up.”
Students also had private meetings with their district representative, State Sen. Fred Meyer of St. Paul, and their former representative, State Treasurer Tom Briese of Albion.
Civic Nebraska works to create a more modern and robust democracy for all Nebraskans. For more information about Civic Nebraska’s Capitol Experience Days, contact Audrey Nance at Audrey.nance@civicnebraska.org.

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