Megan Schippert

Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School student Megan Schippert, far-right, takes part in discussing ideas for new laws at state Sen. Jason Barickman’s 2019 Youth Advisory Program.

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BLOOMINGTON — Nearly 70 students from across the 53rd Senate District — including those from Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School and Iroquois West High School — came to Bloomington-Normal recently to offer up their ideas for new laws to state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington.

The event was part of Barickman’s annual Youth Advisory Council program, now in its sixth year.

“I believe the best way to help develop engaged citizens and grow the next generation of leaders is to engage them at a young age,” said Barickman. “This program gives them a chance to not only learn more about their government but to be an active participant in it.”

The students learned about state government and discussed issues with Barickman, along with other local lawmakers. Then, the students split into small groups to develop their ideas for new laws.

The students proposed and debated a number of ideas, from redistricting reform to environmental education, before eventually voting for a plan to include mental health education in high school health classes.

“I am considering politics as a career, and I wanted to come see how it works and if it actually fits with me,” said Iroquois High School student Tony Espinosa. “If you’re shy, this is a good way to step out of your comfort zone, get used to talking to people, meeting new people, and having a great mindset, having confidence about what you say and confidence in your opinions, to speak loud and have a voice for yourself.”

Barickman’s Youth Advisory Council members will meet again during the regular legislative session at the state capitol complex in Springfield. They will tour the capitol, meet with members of multiple professions — including lawmakers, lobbyists, staff members and reporters — and conduct a mock committee hearing on the legislation they picked during the fall meeting.

“It always amazes me to hear the students discuss issues that they are passionate about,” Barickman said. “These young men and women are engaged and passionate about major issues. I hope the students leave here with a new appreciation for government service and an understanding of what is involved with taking your idea, building a consensus and advancing it into law.”

Barickman’s Youth Advisory Council program is open to high school students in the 53rd Senate District.