The halls of the Nebraska State Capitol often buzz with school visitors. But few get the kind of statehouse perspective that Central Valley High School students earned on March 7.
The CVHS seniors took part in Capitol Experience Day, an intensive daylong program tailored just for their class that immersed them in the workings of the Capitol.
Hosted by Civic Nebraska through its Civic Health Program, the event allows students to think critically and partake in civil discourse in the place the state’s laws are debated and made. They also interact with state officials and learn the ins and outs of Nebraska’s one-house, non-partisan government.
By the end of the day, students honed their community advocate skills. They also had a thorough understanding of the Legislature and the importance of their role as citizens – often called Nebraska state government’s “second house” – in the legislative process.
“It’s a rare opportunity for our seniors to interact with our state government in a unique way,” Kimbrie Vlach, a social-studies teacher at Central Valley, said.
Cougar seniors learned about the history of the unicameral, then looked on as senators engaged in lively debate on the floor of the Legislature. Inspired by the senators’ interactions, they convened in a Capitol conference room and conducted a “committee hearing” on another piece of current legislation.
During the mock hearing – which concerned real-life LB1069, a proposal to update education requirements on teaching Americanism – students deliberated the strengths and weaknesses of the bill from a range of viewpoints. Some role-played as senators, while others offered supporting testimony. Still others spoke in opposition of the bill.
In a private meeting with the class, State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion said a committee hearing is are often the most important step in determining whether a bill becomes state law. As the representative of the state’s third-largest district in area, he also shared students’ concerns about standing up for rural Nebraska’s interests.
“With everything I do, with every vote I make, I think about the folks at home, the ones who sent me here,” Briese said. “They are my guide.”
Senior Madison Cockerill, who was Central Valley’s Girls State representative after her junior year, said because Civic Nebraska designed Capitol Experience Day with CVHS students’ interests in mind, the sessions delved more deeply into issues that are relevant to their communities of Greeley, Wolbach, North Loup and Scotia.
“I appreciate the work that everyone, including Senator Briese, does in representing us,” she said. “Being 18 and able to vote (in November), this is a great reminder of what my vote can do.”
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 Madison Hilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.