Cape High group participates in mock legislative session
Cape Coral High’s Youth In Government club returned from Tallahassee this week from a mock legislative session with other Florida schools.
The chapter of 16 students, overseen by the Florida YMCA, joined approximately 400 others on Feb. 18-20 for a State Assembly where members of the club served as legislators, governor’s cabinet members or judges.
A total of six bills were debated and passed over the weekend, two of which came from students at Cape High.
Three students from the school also came home with individual awards.
Justin Sigterman, a senior, won Best Statesman; Joe Burch, a junior, won runner-up for Best Statesman; and Jessel Serrano, a senior, won runner-up for Best Bill.
Andrew Gascon, a history teacher and faculty advisor for YIG, has managed the club for the last four years. He said the club’s motto is “Democracy must be learned by each generation.”
“They argue bills which go into committee,” he said. “They let us use the capital chambers and for the courts they go to the Supreme Court.”
Students prepare for the event through most of the year, he said, and he takes little credit for the club’s success. In fact, he said the more experienced club members take responsibility of teaching the newcomers on how the club and legislative process works.
“Everything these guys do is their work,” he said. “I’m in the room, but it’s the interest of the kids that keeps us going.”
Sigterman has been in the club two years and said the process of getting the bills passed is tough. The bill he presented sought to legalize commercial gambling in Florida.
“We had both of our bills signed into law and that takes a lot of effort to do,” he said.
Bills had to pass both houses of the assembly and be signed by the mock governor, played by a student from Fort Myers High, before it became law. Sigterman said he plans on joining either the Air Force ROTC or a federal service academy after high school.
Burch, who attended a national YIG conference last year, also served in the legislative branch. He explained that placements in the assembly depend on merit and how they long students have been members of the club. His bill extended the statute of limitations for parents who solicit their children for sex from three to 11 years.
“I got it passed and had a co-sponsor from Fort Myers High,” he said.
The president of Cape Coral High’s YIG club, Misha Zaidi, is a senior who has been in the club for three years. She served in the judicial system and presented two cases to other students who portrayed Supreme Court justices. The cases were assigned to the club last October, she said.
“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “It is a life-changing club, you are in a different world and you put so much time into it.”
Even though Zaidi became intimately familiar with Florida’s judicial system, she plans on attending the University of South Florida as a pre-med major.
Serving as another legislator, Serrano introduced a controversial immigration bill which Gascon told him would likely not pass due to the more conservative nature of the assembly. When the time came for it to be voted on, members approved it 26-13 and Serrano was named runner-up for Best Bill.