Some 140 ninth-grade Gifted and Talented students from 14 Baltimore County public high schools, including Lansdowne High, took part in a Model Congress March 21 at Cockeysville Middle School.
Prior to the daylong session, students had worked in their respective schools for most of the school year researching the important issues and devising legislation to introduce into committees at the Model Congress, according to Jodi Gratman, Loch Raven High School's social studies chairwoman.
The proposed legislation was sent in ahead of time and compiled into the bill books students received when they arrived at the school on Greenside Drive.
"This is the first time they've met," she said, surveying the room filled with students in suits and skirts as they debated the merits of their fellow senators' and representatives' bills. "It's really a genuine experience."
Baltimore County high schools have participated in the Model Congress for 14 years. Wielding gavels, Loch Raven High School students served as committee chairs to lead the younger students through the process. They had the experience of the Model Congress as ninth-graders, as well as the Princeton Model Congress, held annually for high school students in Washington, D.C.
The goal was a simulation of how Congress works — writing legislation, going through the committee process, final debate and voting in full sessions of the chambers. They had to learn parliamentary procedure, as well as hone their listening and speaking skills.
Students were separated into committees just as they would have been if they were in Congress. Teachers assigned students to committees at some schools while at other students were able to select their committee.
In seven hours, the House passed bills to convert the current measurement system, regulate and control pollution and find to solutions to homelessness and poverty.
In the course of the day, more than 100 bills were considered as all students offered proposed legislation on issues ranging from poverty and homelessness to education, foreign aid and the clear and present danger of attack from our neighbors on the moon.
Mary Duvall, of Lansdowne High School, was serious about her bill on regulating animal experimentation.
It turned out to be quite a learning experience for the animal lover.
"I didn't know all the animals that have been used," she said. "It's really sad."
Eli Fastow, a Pikesville High School student, spoke eloquently about his bill to provide resources to improve standards in public schools. "The U.S. is No. 1 in innovation," he said, citing a Bloomberg study on education. "And 17th in education."
He also pushed a bill to declare war on the moon. "It's a clear and pressing issue," he said with the same eloquence.
Joke bills, said Gratman, are part of the Princeton Model Congress, on which this session was based. Although the declaration of war was passed by the Science and Technology Committee, it was not presented to the full Senate.
Meanwhile over in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Hannah Zimet, of Towson High, presented a bill to provide aid to Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya where some 160,000 refugees, mostly Somalis, live.
"I think it's important to help others and important to provide aid to large numbers," she said.
Kristen Leo, a Lansdowne student, thought she had worded her Homosexual Equality Act carefully enough to avoid serious debate, she said.
She was wrong.
"There was a lot of debate," she said.
Her committee wasn't happy about her wording on civil union's rights, which she had thought would be more acceptable than marriage rights.
"They decided to call it marriage anyway," she said.
Matthew Ziegelstein, a Pikesville ninth-grader, presented his bill on conversion to metric measurement to the full House of Representatives.
Debate was lively.
In the end, the bill passed.
It had taken less than a half hour of debate, questions and clarifications.
Then the House moved onto the next measure.
"It's a beautiful process," said Gratman, the Congress' moderator.